Our extreme weather: Arctic changes to blame?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:50 PM GMT on December 16, 2011

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"The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation...it's how can it not?" That was the take-home message from Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, in her talk "Does Arctic Amplification Fuel Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes?", presented at last week's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Francis presented new research in review for publication, which shows that Arctic sea ice loss may significantly affect the upper-level atmospheric circulation, slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. High-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increases the probability of persistent weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice in September 2007 reached its lowest extent on record, approximately 40% lower than when satellite records began in 1979. Sea ice loss in 2011 was virtually tied with the ice loss in 2007, despite weather conditions that were not as unusual in the Arctic. Image credit: University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.

Summertime Arctic sea ice loss: 40% since 1980
The Arctic has seen a stunning amount of sea ice loss in recent years, due to melting and unfavorable winds that have pushed large amounts of ice out of the region. Forty percent of the sea ice was missing in September 2007, compared to September of 1980. This is an area equivalent to about 44% of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe. Such a large area of open water is bound to cause significant impacts on weather patterns, due to the huge amount of heat and moisture that escapes from the exposed ocean into the atmosphere over a multi-month period following the summer melt.


Figure 2. The extent of Arctic sea ice loss in the summer July - August - September period in 2007 was about 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million square kilometers) greater than in 1980, according to the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. For comparison, the lost ice coverage (orange colors) was equal to an area about 44% of the size of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe.

Arctic sea ice loss can slow down jet stream winds
Dr. Francis looked at surface and upper level data from 1948 - 2010, and discovered that the extra heat in the Arctic in fall and winter over the past decade had caused the Arctic atmosphere between the surface and 500 mb (about 18,000 feet or 5,600 meters) to expand. As a result, the difference in temperature between the Arctic (60 - 80°N) and the mid-latitudes (30 - 50°N) fell significantly. It is this difference in temperature that drives the powerful jet stream winds that control much of our weather. The speed of fall and winter west-to-east upper-level winds at 500 mb circling the North Pole decreased by 20% over the past decade, compared to the period 1948 - 2000, in response to the extra warmth in the Arctic. This slow-down of the upper-level winds circling the pole has been linked to a Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern that brought cold, snowy winters to the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe during 2009 - 2010 and 2010 - 2011.


Figure 3. West-to-east jet stream wind speeds at 500 mb (approximately 18,000 feet or 5,600 meters) in the mid-latitudes (40 - 60°N) over North America between 1948 and 2010. During fall (October - November - December) and winter (January - February - March), jet stream winds weakened by about 20%, from 13 - 14 m/s to 10.5 - 11 m/s. Spring (AMJ) and summer (JAS) winds changed little during this time period.

Arctic sea ice loss may increase the amplitude of jet stream troughs and ridges
The jet stream generally blows from west to east over the northern mid-latitudes, with an average position over the central U.S. in winter and southern Canada in summer. The jet stream marks the boundary between cold polar air to the north and warm subtropical air to the south, and is the path along which rain and snow-bearing low pressure systems ride. Instead of blowing straight west-to-east, the jet stream often contorts itself into a wave-like pattern. Where the jet stream bulges northwards into a ridge of high pressure, warm air flows far to the north. Where the jet loops to the south into a trough of low pressure, cold air spills southwards. The more extreme these loops to the north and south are--the amplitude of the jet stream--the slower the waves move eastward, and consequently, the more persistent the weather conditions tend to be. A high-amplitude jet stream pattern (more than 1000 miles or 1610 km in distance between the bottom of a trough and the peak of a ridge) is likely to bring abnormally high temperatures to the region under its ridge, and very cold temperatures and heavy precipitation underneath its trough. The mathematics governing atmospheric motions requires that higher-amplitude flow patterns move more slowly. Thus, any change to the atmosphere that increases the amplitude of the wave pattern will make it move more slowly, increasing the length of time extreme weather conditions persist. Dr. Francis discovered that during the early 1960s, a natural pattern in the atmosphere called the Arctic Oscillation increased the amplitude of the winter jet stream pattern over North America and the North Atlantic by more than 100 miles, increasing the potential for long-lasting weather conditions. The amplitude of the winter jet fell over 100 miles (161 km) during the late 1960s, remained roughly constant during the 1970s - 1990s, then increased by over 100 miles again during the 2000s. This latest increase in wave amplitude did not appear to be connected to the Arctic Oscillation, but did appear to be connected to the heating up of the Arctic due to sea ice loss. A warmer Arctic allows ridges of high pressure to build farther to the north. Since temperatures farther to the south near the bases of the troughs are not changing much by comparison, the result is that the amplitude of the jet stream grows as the ridges of high pressure push farther to the north. Thus it is possible that Arctic sea ice loss and the associated increases in jet stream amplitude could be partially responsible for some of the recent unusual extreme weather patterns observed in the Northern Hemisphere. This is preliminary research that has yet to be published, and much more work needs to be done before we can confidently link Arctic sea ice loss with an increase in extreme weather, though.


Figure 4. A high-amplitude jet stream pattern observed over the U.S. on December 13, 2011. Instead of blowing straight west-to-east, the jet was contorted into a southward-bulging trough of low pressure that brought cold temperatures and a snow storm to Southern California, and a northwards-bulging ridge of high pressure that brought record warm temperatures to portions of the eastern 2/3 of the country. The axis of the jet stream is marked by the strongest winds (green and light blue colors) at the top of the lower atmosphere (200 - 300 mb pressure level.)

Earlier snow cover melt on Arctic land also increases the amplitude of jet stream troughs and ridges
As Earth's climate has warmed over the past 30 years, the Northern Hemisphere has seen a dramatic drop in the amount of snow cover in spring (April, May, and June.) Spring is coming earlier by an average of three days per decade, and the earlier arrival of spring has significantly reduced the amount of snow on the ground in May. Less snow on the ground means the land surface can heat up more readily, and May temperatures in Arctic have increased significantly over the past 30 years. Dr. Francis found that the upper-level wave amplitude has increased by over 100 miles (161 km) in summer over the past decade, and this change appears to be connected to the decline in May snow cover. Thus, reduced May snow cover due to global warming may be causing higher-amplitude jet stream patterns, potentially leading to slower-moving weather patterns that favor extreme weather in summer, such as heat waves, drought, and flooding. Note that significant changes to the upper-level atmospheric circulation in spring were not observed, so springtime extreme weather events like the 2011 flooding and tornadoes in the U.S. cannot be connected to changes in the Arctic sea ice or high-latitude snow cover using this research.

Related posts
Florida shivers; Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern is back
Jet stream moved northwards 270 miles in 22 years; climate change to blame?

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Ameister12:



Color, Ameister, Color!!

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Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #29
TROPICAL STORM WASHI (T1121)
9:00 AM JST December 17 2011
===============================

SUBJECT: Category One Typhoon in Sulu Sea

At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Washi (996 hPa) located at 8.9N 122.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 40 knots with gusts of 60 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west northwest at 13 knots

Dvorak Intensity: T2.5

Gale Force Winds
===============
180 NM from the center in northern quadrant
90 NM from the center in southern quadrant

Forecast and Intensity
======================
24 HRS: 8.9N 117.4E - 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm)
48 HRS: 8.4N 112.6E - 45 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm)
72 HRS: 6.9N 108.1E - 40 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm)

Additional Information
======================

tropical storm will move westward at the same speed for the next 72 hours

tropical storm will keep present intensity for the next 24 hours

Final initial Dvorak number will be T2.5 after 24 hours
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45. Skyepony (Mod)
A touch of grauple in parts of the I.E.

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It's like going to da Moon up dere.


Grothar and I shared some of the same Permafrost once in Norway in 84'. Back when we were in NATO.



Catlin Arctic Mission Runs Into Bad Weather

Bonnie Alter
Business / Corporate Responsibility
April 21, 2009


All Images from Catlin Arctic Survey

It's not easy being an Arctic explorer--here's a picture of one en route to the north pole to examine the effect of climate change. With daily temperatures of -40C, it is cold and miserable.

The Catlin Arctic Survey mission, consisting of three hardy Brits--two men and a woman, set out on February 28 and will be travelling about 600 miles on foot to the north pole. Their goal: to ascertain how long the Arctic Ocean's sea ice cover will remain a permanent feature of our planet. However the extreme weather conditions that they have encountered have disabled much of the equipment that was to be used to measure ice thickness.
Despite the technological advances of the 20th century, we still only have estimates of the thickness of the sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean. Travelling across the sea ice, the Catlin Arctic Survey team is taking detailed measurements of its thickness and density. This will enable the programme's Science Partners to determine, with a greater degree of accuracy, how long the sea ice will remain. Currently, its predicted meltdown date is anywhere between four and a hundred years from now.

But it has not been smooth sailing for the team. Despite rigorous pre-testing of the equipment, the radar system designed to establish ice thickness and the sleigh's computer kit no longer work due to the brutal temperatures. So they are having to carry out old-fashioned ice drilling instead of the high tech operation planned. They spend up to four hours a day drilling through the ice at ten different sites and taking measurements. They have still managed to carry out one thousand one hundred separate measurements to date of the snow thickness, ice thickness, snow temperature and density,

Pen Hadow, the expedition's leader said "It's never wise to imagine that either man or technology has the upper hand in the natural world. It's truly brutal at times out here on the Arctic Ocean and a constant reminder that Mother Nature always has the final say."

A recent report from the team has found that smaller summer ice is covering the north pole this year. The findings come as Nasa warned that sea ice cover over the Arctic reached its lowest volume since records began this year, with the possibility of an ice-free summer as early as 2013.

So far the thickest measurements has been 3.75 metres but most are around half that. First year ice is generally thinner than 2 metres and older multiyear ice is generally thicker than 3 metres.

Mr Hadow, who was the first man to trek solo to the Pole, said he was surprised to find such thin ice at this stage in the trek. He explained that the route had been chosen, in conjunction with scientific advisers, to cover an area where there would be thicker ice. A lack of thicker ice suggests that ice formed more than a year ago has either moved to a different part of the ocean or melted away meaning the ice cover will be even further reduced this summer.

After 44 days on the ice, the survey team are still only halfway through the project. Given the length of time that it is taking to drill manually all the ice holes, they may have to give up their goal of reaching the northern pole. However, "the overall focus is the science, so reaching the Pole is largely irrelevant to this expedition," explained Director of Operations, Simon Harris-Ward, "What matters most is gathering the maximum amount of data possible over a scientifically interesting route." Catlin Arctic Survey Mission
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42. Skyepony (Mod)

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Re: 36


I'm glad you got that off of your chest.
Merry Christmas.

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Quoting presslord:
Can Santa's sleigh land on water?! Can his elves swim?!?!



Well sure! Long as it's frozen.

I'm not sure if the elves swim tho.
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:



Sup?
Yes there was a statemant made about S.P name.And to be honest it is my opinion...And as for those names you listed they should be illegal to say.
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35. Skyepony (Mod)
Astro~ I've been using notable sea ice anomalies to forecast for a while as well. Certainly a strong player. It's really nice to see the research, verification, details & all happening.

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WP272011 - Tropical Storm WASHI

Enhanced Infrared (IR) Imagery (4 km Mercator)

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Quoting PlazaRed:
Thanks Dr. Masters for this enlightening exposure:-
""The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation...it's how can it not?""
At the end of the day do we need any more editorial.
I will now read the rest of the Blog heading!


I would note that he gave a PROFESSIONAL opinion. This is not unlike an MD commenting on smoking and health.
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Where's Pensocola doug?.I got a bone to pick with him...



Sup?
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WP272011 - Tropical Storm WASHI

Storm Relative 1km Geostationary Visible Imagery/Loop


..click image for loop



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30. Skyepony (Mod)
Hudson Bay took to freezing up finally. With Baffin Newfoundland & Greenland Seas all about to average for this time of year, with a shift to North of Europe that has the below average Ice I'm expecting the NAO to stay positive..FL to to not freeze & Europe to take the brunt of the extreme weather for the next few weeks.



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Thanks Doc, I've know about the Arctic's effect on slowing jet stream speeds for two years now from my own inferences. However it's likely a mix of climate change and low solar activity.
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Quoting Skyepony:
Atleast 3 died from Washi hitting the Philippines.

Corsica, France has a wind whipped, raging wild fire going.
It's good to hear that the death toll is low.Especially what they've been going through in the past few years.
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Can Santa's sleigh land on water?! Can his elves swim?!?!
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26. Skyepony (Mod)
Atleast 3 died from Washi hitting the Philippines.

Corsica, France has a wind whipped, raging wild fire going.
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Light rain down here in West Palm Beach...

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Where's Pensocola doug?.I got a bone to pick with him...
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Russia seizes radioactive material bound for Iran

by: From correspondents in Moscow From: AFP December 16, 2011 10:32PM

RUSSIA seized today a consignment of the radioactive isotope Sodium-22 at a Moscow airport from a passenger who was to travel on a flight to Tehran, the customs service said.
"Tests showed that the Sodium-22 could only have been obtained as the result of the work of a nuclear reactor," it said in a statement. "A criminal inquiry has been opened and the materials transferred to prosecutors."
Customs was alerted by a warning system at Sheremetyevo Airport ahead of the Moscow to Tehran flight that background radiation in the departures hall was 20 times the norm. A passenger's bag was then searched.
"Eighteen metallic objects of industrial origin were found, packed into individual steel boxes," it said. "Tests then found that the objects were in fact the radioactive isotope Sodium-22 that had been machine-produced."
Tile2_28DayPass
No further details were immediately available on the consignment or the identity of the passenger who was carrying the materials.
Russia has relatively close ties with Iran and built its first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr. Moscow also delivered the nuclear fuel for the reactor.
Moscow has echoed Western concerns about the nature of the Iranian nuclear program but stopped short of publicly accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons and always said that the standoff should be solved by diplomacy.
Experts have long called for tight controls against nuclear smuggling so that Iran cannot get ahold of materials it is barred from obtaining under UN Security Council sanctions.

Link
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21. Skyepony (Mod)
More on the havoc from Joachim..

A cargo ship ran aground and spilled oil into the sea off the coast of France's northwestern region of Brittany early on Friday as a storm battered the region, officials said. An oil slick was reported to be floating toward the coast between the city of Lorient and the Quiberon peninsula, according to the Brest maritime authorities. Regional authorities were preparing to deploy equipment to try and contain the slick and to empty the ship of its 180 tons of fuel and 40 tons of diesel, it said. All 19 members of the ship's crew, which was flying the Maltese flag, were evacuated by helicopter, it said. The storm has been battering the region of Brittany since Thursday night, with gusts of wind of up to 133 kilometres (83 miles) per hour and waves up to seven metres (yards) high. The storm has left nearly 200,000 households without electricity and wreacked havoc on train traffic in Brittany and the Pays de la Loire region due to debris falling on tracks, according to regional authorities and the SNCF rail operator.
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Russia's Phobos-Ground Mars probe expected to fall to Earth in January

"It will be a fiery ending for Russia's troubled spacecraft, which was launched in November and was supposed to be heading on a dust-and-rock-gathering mission to Phobos -- one of the two moons that orbits Mars. Instead, the spacecraft's thrusters malfunctioned and the probe got stuck in a low orbit around Earth."
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19. Skyepony (Mod)
A hailstorm last night affected several farms in southern Brazil. In the major grapevine region of Brazil, about 80% of the crop was lost in 20 minutes of hail. Fruit farms were also affected, losing the whole production of peach and other seasonal fruits. Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states are also the bigger tobacco producers in Brazil, and were hardly damaged. Growers from an important region had done two harvests so far, and more 4 – 5 was up to start in the next following days, but was totally damaged by the hail. Some soybean and corn crops were also damaged in the west of Santa Catarina state, and north of RS. Those are not such expressive areas, but these regions are also suffering with drought.
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18. Skyepony (Mod)
Germany’s emergency services braced themselves Friday morning as the powerful winter storm “Joachim” struck the country from the west. There have already been massive power cuts across France. The storm raged across France on overnight, with the centre of the low pressure system reaching Paris at 3 am. Railway systems broke down in the Loire region. The storm also caused an oil spill from a stranded freighter on the coast of Brittany. The storm, dubbed “Joachim,” is expected to cut a swathe through Germany from Düsseldorf to Hannover to Berlin, but the strongest winds are expected to strike regions south of the centre of the storm. The Meteomedia weather service has already put out its highest alert for large areas of the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. Meanwhile the Karlsruhe institute for meteorology said “Joachim” would bring heavy rainfall. The institute added that there would be winds of up to 200 kilometres an hour in the Alpine summits and snowfall could be expected in mountainous regions. According to the weathermen, the storm also heralds the end of the relatively mild temperatures that have been reigning in Germany this winter. Snow is expected in the lower regions of Germany during the weekend.
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17. Skyepony (Mod)
Excellent blog. Makes sense as do the lower overall upper atmosphere winds in spring has traditionally caused the spring severe weather outbreaks. Not sure if we aren't beginning to see a little spring affect. I noticed in the last few years that marked drop in spring & imagine that there maybe a curve where at some point the damage increases greatly with less wind drop. Needs a few years to really verify anything concerning spring though.
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There are delusions and the deluded? Reality has no time for either.
Fact:- If we are about to have storms in open water across the arctic regions then this will be the first time in observed or recorded history that this has occurred.
There is a massive difference between the northern polar regions of the world being covered in ice and being a mass of liquid water, I can walk on ice and live but I can't walk on water.(Mr. Bleater might want to challenge me on this later,) Nobody has ever seen the Arctic ice free and as far as I can discover nobody has yet postulated what will happen if it is ice free but I'm sure if this transpires we will be in for a lot of surprises.My amateur guess is that this will lead to a massive acceleration in the melting of the ice cap on Greenland,if Greenland is surrounded by water its inland temperature will probably rise but then again I might be one of the deluded!
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Quoting Sfloridacat5:
January trend?
I'm in Southwest Fl. and December has been really warm. It seems like its been 80+ degrees every day this month.
Back in Nov. we had some cold weather (unusually cold for Nov.)
Also, the amount of snow cover across the U.S. is very small for mid December.

I wonder if January will make up for the real warm December we've had down in Fl.


SW Florida here as well; marveling at how warm it's been so far this month. Since I moved here for gardening, I am one happy camper about this warmth -- but it sure has been rainless here in the Cape!

Seems to me the buzz when fall started was how we were so likely to have another winter & spring identical to the last one, because of the return of La Nina. But right away, the snows in Colorado -- so opposite of last fall -- told me that something was different. Watching all the rain and snow in SoCal, and the warmth we're having here in SoFla, makes me think this winter will be different, which is fine with me! I'd love a warm winter for a change, not to mention no repeat of last spring's tornadoes for the Mid-South, where so many of my relatives live.

Cheers!
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14. Inyo
This is a blog not some sort of newspaper article. Why shouldn't it have "editorial"? And why shouldn't you listen? You are afraid that someone who knows much more about a subject than you will say something that bothers you? Maybe you should hide in the sand instead.
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"E-cat Home Heater almost here"

Andrea Rossi back from spending Thanksgiving in the United States has made a number of interesting statements on his blog. The most interesting of these involves the home e-cat boiler which would be used for both heating and water heating.

Link
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Hmmmmm ... according to RWT:

"Wild weather needs much more time to catch up to the climate changes."

Since climate by definition is just the average weather over time, weather never has to "catch up" with climate. Perhaps the intent is to say

"Wild weather needs much more time to catch up to the change in the Arctic ice."

That would make the actual statement a kind of Freudian slip admitting that the change in the Arctic ice amounts to climate change. Since the effects of El Nino and La Nina are well documented to have very little lag, the change in the Arctic Ocean surface should have a fairly immediate effect on weather, too.
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Thanks Dr. Masters for this enlightening exposure:-
""The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation...it's how can it not?""
At the end of the day do we need any more editorial.
I will now read the rest of the Blog heading!
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and thanks doc--tgif
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January trend?
I'm in Southwest Fl. and December has been really warm. It seems like its been 80+ degrees every day this month.
Back in Nov. we had some cold weather (unusually cold for Nov.)
Also, the amount of snow cover across the U.S. is very small for mid December.

I wonder if January will make up for the real warm December we've had down in Fl.
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RWT:

what? if vast areas of ice turn to open water, it does NOT take a long time for changes to take effect. They are immediate - instead of being -50 degrees or whatever, the open water moderates temperatures to near freezing. That's a tremendous change.

And about ice now growing substantially, yes, it happens every year, it's called winter. But, if you compare to other years at this time of year, no, ice isn't increasing. Where do you get this stuff from?
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Quoting RWT:
In my opinion, no way do you blame the Arctic. As it's only been showing ice regression now for a little time. Wild weather needs much more time to catch up to the climate changes.

In addition, ice has began reversing it's trend now and growing pretty substantially. These are trends that have been occurring for thousands of years.


Absolutely false on all counts.

Weather responds very quickly to changes. One of the main drivers of weather is the temperature differentials between air masses. Anything that changes that differential will impact weather. A warmer arctic, for example, can have substantial impacts on weather patterns. This is basic meteorology.

The arctic has not reversed it's trend of ice-loss. This year missed being another record minimum by a hair, and that was with sub-optimal conditions (unlike 2007). The 30 year trend is down, and nothing in the past couple of years has changed that. There are several sites that track the radar measurements of arctic ice and they all say the same thing: The arctic has lost an incredible amount of ice over the past few decades. There is absolutely no scientific evidence showing a "substantial recovery".

The changes we are seeing today haven't been occurring for "thousands of years". Paleoclimate research refutes that statement pretty clearly. We are meeting/exceeding the Holocene Optimum, and we managed to do that in less than 100 years. Even the best case scenario will have the planet warmer than it's been since the Miocene by the end of the next century.

There are plenty of meteorological and climatological resources on the net. Google is your friend.

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Quoting allancalderini:
So Irene became a hurricane at Puerto Rico amazing

It became a hurricane at Puerto Rico anyways, the TCR didn't change that.

What the Tropical Cyclone Report did change is that Irene was not a hurricane in New Jersey, it was a strong tropical storm.
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So Irene became a hurricane at Puerto Rico amazing
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~((REPOST IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN MY OTHER POST))~
I find interesting that in MD, based on the data, it seems that the farther inland you went the winds got stronger:
Gaithersburg (GTHNT) 28/0559 gusts: 63 KTS. (most inland)
Laurel (LRSHS) 28/0429 gusts: 50 KTS. (Where my Grandparents live, closest to me.)
Ocean City (KOXB) 28/0053 983.7 27/2053 Winds:33 KTS. Gusts: 47 KTS. (This is closer to Irene then any other of the places listed)
I find that interesting because usually the closer you are to the storm, the worse winds you get, and this was different. This is odd.
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Thank you Doctor!
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Thanks Doc!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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