What’s Driving the Polar Vortex?
Climate change is not hot weather, and it is not cold weather. Those conditions have been around for eons.
Climate change is extreme anomalous weather conditions, like 100-year floods every few years rather than once every 100 years, e.g., Eastern Europe in 2013, or torrential downpours equivalent to annual rainfall levels but within one week, like Colorado in 2013, or embedded droughts that last for months, like Russia in 2010 when grain exports were halted, or subzero temperatures throughout North America in January 2014 because of anomalous jet streams, i.e. climate change conditions.
All of these extreme weather conditions that in years past happened on the odd occasion are now happening with increasing frequency, ferocity, and longevity. These conditions are becoming the norm and turn nasty by embedding for long duration because of climate change conditions.
As such, the saying “a 100-year flood” has become passé.
Severe anomalous weather occurrences can be, and are, measured by scientists. Thus, one can measure and know for certain whether climate change or regular ole weather patterns are happening. Here are some examples of climate change.
Droughts are a normal, recurring feature of the climate throughout the world. However, the normal, recurring feature, as of the past few decades, is turning quite abnormal or anomalous. To wit: According to Aiguo Dai, et al, Global Dataset of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 1870-2002: Relationship with Soil Moisture and Effects of Surface Warming, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, 2004: “The global very dry areas… have more than doubled since the 1970s, with a large jump in the early 1980s… with surface warming as the primary cause after the mid-1980s. These results provide observational evidence for the increasing risk of droughts as anthropogenic global warming progresses and produces both increased temperatures and increased drying.”
As well, the World Meteorological Organization claims the planet experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes in the ten years from 2001 to 2010, the warmest decade since the start of modern measurements in 1850, The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes – Summary Report, World Meteorological Organization, published by WMO, 2013.
The warmest year ever recorded was 2010.
According to Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General: “A decade is the minimum possible timeframe for meaningful assessments of climate change.”
Furthermore, the WMO report shows that global warming accelerated in the four decades of 1971 to 2010 and the decadal rate of increase between 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 was unprecedented. Global warming causes climate change, which, as the result of disruption of the jet streams above Alaska, in turn, causes bitter cold to hit the U.S.
The Year 2013 was all about Climate Change
Last year (2013) was all about anomalous weather as a result of climate change. Here are a few examples as explained in A Year’s Wild Weather – in two Minutes, BBC News, January 8, 2014:
- Australia- hottest summer on record books
- UK’s coldest spring in 50 years.
- A 17-mile wide tornado hit Oklahoma
- Canadian flooding – costliest in history
- India had worst monsoon in 80 years
- UK longest heat wave in 7 years
That is climate change.
And, beyond BBC’s two minutes, there is more, much more, for example:
Boulder County, Colorado, in September 2013, recorded as much rainfall in a few days as it normally registers in a full year, causing massive flooding over 200 miles. Why? A slow-moving cold front stalled (embedded because of distorted jet streams generated by a warming Arctic) over Colorado and clashed with warm humid air from the south. This is climate change.
Climate Change is anomalous, extreme cold, extreme hot, or extreme weather caused, in large part, by Arctic Amplification
The North Pole serves as the air conditioner or weather regulator for the entire Northern Hemisphere. It is where, in large part, climate change originates.
Here is what Jennifer A. Francis, PhD (Research Professor / Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University) and Stephen J. Vavrus, PhD (Senior Scientist / Center for Climatic Research – University of Wisconsin) have to say about extreme weather events in Geophysical Research Letter, Vol. 39, L06801, Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes, March 2012:
“During the past few decades the Arctic has warmed approximately twice as rapidly as the entire northern hemisphere… a phenomenon called Arctic Amplification. The widespread warming resulted from a combination of increased greenhouse gases and positive feedbacks… The area of summer sea ice lost since the 1980s would cover over 40% of the contiguous United States.”
And, as far as extremes of cold and hot weather are concerned: “Slower progression of upper-level [atmospheric] waves [over the Arctic] causes more persistent weather conditions that can increase the likelihood of certain types of extreme weather, such as drought, prolonged precipitation, cold spells, and heat waves. Previous studies support this idea….” Ibid.
Winter Extremes in Northern Continents
Further interpretation of extreme cold weather anomalous events is explained in a Chinese study supported by the National Basic Research Program of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Hundred Talents Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to wit: Qiuhong Tang, et al, Cold Winter Extremes in Northern Continents Linked to Arctic Sea Ice Loss, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 8, No. 1, March 12, 2013:
“The results suggest that the winter atmospheric circulation in high northern latitudes associated with Arctic sea ice loss, especially in the winter, favors the occurrence of cold winter extremes at the middle latitudes of the northern continents.”
And, in conclusion: “If the association between Arctic sea ice and cold winter extremes demonstrated in this study is robust, we would expect to see a continuation and expansion of cold winter extremes as the sea ice cover continues to decline in response to ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.”
Ergo, a polar vortex hangs out over the United States in January 2014. This is climate change.
Meanwhile, America’s most northern city Barrow, Alaska in the Arctic has been running -2 F to -5 F most of the new year, much warmer than Fargo. This is climate change.
Warming Arctic Brings Climate Change to Northern Hemisphere
According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), as of December 2013, Arctic sea ice extent in December was the 4th lowest December extent in the 36-year satellite data record. The December reading at the end of the month was 289,600 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average and nearly identical to the extent at the end of 2012.
An NSIDC article: Is Declining Sea Ice Changing the Atmosphere? Dec. 2, 2013, states: “In years of low sea ice, the jet stream weakens and slows, sending loops of air currents further south. These loops can produce extreme weather patterns, such as pounding one region with an unusual flurry of blizzards or parching a normally wet area with an extended drought.”
That is climate change.
And, the Arctic is losing sea ice mass by the decade, having already lost over 40% of its mass since 1980.
Why is the Arctic losing ice mass?
It is losing ice mass because of global warming as the Arctic experiences warming at a rate 2-3 times faster than the rest of the planet. As such, global warming is the result of burning fossil fuels.
What an interesting turn of fate: Burning fossil fuels brings bitter Arctic cold to those that burn the fossil fuels.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org