Everything is about ice these days, what with the Winter Olympics in full swing. Concerns that the temperatures at the mountain venue of Sochi would be problematically high have panned out; the lower parts of the downhill slopes are slushy and the bottom of the half-pipe is all bumbly wumply. Injuries and lost medal opportunities are mounting up every day, in part caused by the unusual “Spring” conditions.

We all know the Arctic Vortex has been sitting on the middle of North America, and this has caused near zero F temperatures, often as low as -20F, here in central Minnesota. The same weather pattern has been bringing interesting storms across the American South, including, apparently, a nasty ice storm for Georgia (the state, not the Republic) tonight. Meanwhile we hear of very warm weather in Alaska and Eurasia.

So, if the Polar Vortex is here in the Twin Cities (plus or minus some 1,500 miles or so), what is going on in the Arctic? Is the sea ice at a relatively low level at this time of year when it should be reaching a maximum? How have the temperatures been, say, in Greenland?

Before I show you, I have to warn you of two important things. First, this time of year, early February, is a bad time to predict the next summer’s sea ice melt. Likely, there will be plenty of melting, and we can say that simply because for the last decade that has been the new norm. But looking at the current and recent data on sea ice extent does not accurately predict the minimum sea ice extent in September, when it will likely be at its lowest. (Well, to be honest, I don’t actually know this prediction can’t be made but I’m pretty sure that’s right). The second, countervailing issue is this: Climate scientists who look at these things seem to be about evenly divided between those who think we may have some sort of El Nino late this year, vs. not. This would determine in part warmer vs. cooler conditions generally. So, this post has to be regarded as highly speculative.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a nice “Interactive Sea Ice Graph” that you can play with to look at past years’ march of ice melting and re-freezing on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Here, I’ve selected the base graph which has the average from 1981-2010 plus or minus 2 standard deviations (in gray) and the data so far for 2014. As you can see, we are at the lower end of the 2SD range.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 8.39.15 PM

Meanwhile, the Dark Snow Project blog has a post by Jason Box with this interesting graph:

Arctic20140206-1024x847

Those are temperature anomalies in the Arctic region over the first 30-something days of this year. This shows unusual warmth. Now, compare that to a different graph from the same site:

MidwestAndEast20140206-1024x826

That is “…the US for the region bounded by 70 to 105 longitude west and 38 to 55 latitude north.” In other words, that’s where the Arctic Vortex has been hanging out. So, yes, as I’ve mentioned before, the Arctic cold is here, not up in the Arctic. Up in the Arctic it is relatively warm. Jason also has this map showing the pattern using a different graphical technique. Remember, these are anomalies, departures from a 1981-2010 baseline, not absolute temperatures.

Temperature_2014_33-37_anom-1024x951 (1)

Go to the original post to get huge giant versions of these graphics.

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog has a lot more on the current situation. Also, Jason Box has this video released a few days ago and written up at Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

I repeat, it is too early to say what is going to happen during this year’s melt in the Arctic. But, this is a good time to start observing, as we will be passing typical peak sea ice in just under a month.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew Dodds
    February 12, 2014

    It’s interesting.

    The strange thing is that a relatively-warm Arctic winter can act to reinforce the sea ice – it allows small amounts of melt to form in the ice, which drains out the salt in a concentrated brine, leaving behind freshwater ice which is harder to melt.

    That’s a hypothesis. We’ll be finding out how accurate a hypothesis son enough.. because on an alterative track, an awful lot of heat has been travelling north via the UK this winter in the form of one storm system after another. The warmth – I’ve yet to measure a sub-zero-C temperature this winter – and rainfall has been amazing. And as far as I know, these systems then track into the Arctic, which is presumably why the ice edge is so far north here for the time of year.

    Still.. there is a part of me that thinks that we may be about to see a few years of Arctic sea ice staying more or less where it is. area and volume wise, and instead a return to El Nino-prone conditions. But I’m not sure that even qualifies as a hypothesis yet. Would blow out all the surface temperature records, though.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    February 12, 2014

    Andrew, this may be a good time to open a betting pool.

  3. #3 Sylvester B
    Houston,TX
    February 12, 2014

    Many (I might add “many, many”) years ago I enjoyed skiing the slopes at Alpental (east of Seattle) and Mount Baker (north). I absolutely hated the slush. But some guys had what they called the “Slush Bowl” in which they skiied in bathing suits and had a ramp near a bit of open water. Down the hill, off the ramp, and splash! into the slush.

    Not for me. Too damn cold.

    JimB

  4. #4 Jordan G
    February 12, 2014

    Until now I did not have a good understanding of the cause of this brutally cold weather in the past month. This blog gave a nice explanation of the Polar Vortex and a prediction of what will come of the Artic in later months. I was able to find more information available at http://www.wunderground.com/news/polar-vortex-plunge-science-behind-arctic-cold-outbreaks-20140106 . Hopefully the movement of the vortex does not mean a lot of melting of ice caps in the Artic. But if it does, this should show people to be more eco-friendly!

  5. #5 Brandi
    February 12, 2014

    It seems as if the climate has almost switched places with one another. Like others have said before me, there has to be a scientific explanation. If I were to suggest anything it would be that the vortex is being pulled down by a jet stream causing it to freeze some place and push warmth up in such places like Alaska. Maybe this is It seems as if the climate has almost switched places with one another. Like others have said before me, there has to be a scientific explanation. If I were to suggest anything it would be that the vortex is being pulled down by a jet stream causing it to freeze some places and pushes warmth up in such places like Alaska. Maybe this is caused by the commonly talked about topic, Global Warming. Just possibly global warming was the cause of the extreme spikes in wind pressure change causing the sudden jet stream to spiral into the places with higher temperatures pushing the cold air down and the hot air up into Alaska.

    It’s interesting.

    The strange thing is that a relatively-warm Arctic winter can act to reinforce the sea ice – it allows small amounts of melt to form in the ice, which drains out the salt in a concentrated brine, leaving behind freshwater ice which is harder to melt.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    February 12, 2014

    Here’s a post that gives more background on the likely link between warming and these odd weather patterns.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/09/28/global-warming-and-extreme-weather-climate-agw/

  7. #7 Abed
    February 12, 2014

    This is proof that global warming is a current problem and not a future one. Also that local weather does not have any impact on overall weather patterns. More worrying than a polar vortex is the California drought. Global warming is real it is a problem we must over come now.

  8. #8 James Mayeau
    February 19, 2014

    Where is Sochi anyhow?

    Oh here it is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sochi_at_Black_Sea_with_Krasnodarski_Krai.png

    From the Wiki; Sochi has a humid subtropical climate[22][23] with mild winters (average 11 °C (52 °F) during the day and 4 °C (39 °F) at night) in the period from December to March and warm summers (average 24 °C (75 °F) during the day and 16 °C (61 °F) at night) in the period from May to October.

    Gosh, why do the Olympic organizers keep holding the games at inappropriately tropical climate venues?

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    February 19, 2014

    The Wiki is wrong. Or, more exactly, those data do not refer to the site of the outdoor venue. I’ve explained it all here: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/01/30/there-are-two-sochis/

    Thing is, many if not most major ski resorts around the world are having significant problems with climate change induced warming and or climate change induced weather whiplash. In a different year this could have been a good venue.

    People made the same mistake with Vancouver. Vancouver is a warmish place, for its latitude, but the ski slope etc were up in the mountains where it is normally a good skiing area. Had this year’s Olympics been held there it might be worse, as I hear there is nary a flake in those mountains.

  10. #10 Douglas Kennedy, DC
    www.ColoPainClinic.com Boulder,CO
    February 23, 2014

    And in Colorado, the snow falls in strange new patterns….

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