Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:40 PM GMT on April 02, 2012

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Earth has seen some highly unusual weather patterns over the past three years, and three new studies published this year point to Arctic sea loss as a potential important driver of some of these strange weather patterns. The record loss of sea ice the Arctic in recent years may be increasing winter cold surges and snowfall in Europe and North America, says a study by a research team led by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists Jiping Liu and Judith Curry. The paper, titled "Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall", was published on Feb. 27, 2012 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our study demonstrates that the decrease in Arctic sea ice area is linked to changes in the winter Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation, said Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, in a press release. "The circulation changes result in more frequent episodes of atmospheric blocking patterns, which lead to increased cold surges and snow over large parts of the northern continents."


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.


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.

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. The Georgia Tech study found that Arctic sea ice loss had caused a 20 - 60% weakening of the west-to-east belt of winds circling the pole in recent years, producing broader meanders in the jet stream that allowed it to get "stuck" in place 20 - 60% more often. When the jet stream gets stuck in place for a long period of time, we say a "blocking pattern" has set up. Since the jet stream marks the boundary between cold, Arctic air to the north, and warmer subtropical air to the south, areas on both sides of the jet are subjected to extended periods of unusually warm or cold weather during a blocking episode. Such a blocking pattern began on January 26, 2012 and lasted until February 11, bringing and exceptionally cold and snowy conditions to much of Europe, which lay on the cold side of an elongated loop of the jet stream that got stuck in place. Conversely, most of North America and northern Siberia saw unusually warm temperatures during this period, since they were on the warm side of the jet stream. Lead author Jiping Liu, a senior research scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, added, "We think the recent snowy winters could be caused by the retreating Arctic ice altering atmospheric circulation patterns by weakening westerly winds, increasing the amplitude of the jet stream and increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. These pattern changes enhance blocking patterns that favor more frequent movement of cold air masses to middle and lower latitudes, leading to increased heavy snowfall in Europe and the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States." The paper concludes: "if Arctic sea ice continues as anticipated by climate modeling results, we speculate that episodes of the aforementioned circulation change will become more frequent, along with more persistent snowstorms over northern continents during winter."


Figure 3. Waiting for the warm-up after a rare snowfall in Italy during the February, 2012 European cold blast. Image credit: wunderphotographer cathykiro.

Two other studies link Arctic sea ice loss to atmospheric circulation changes
"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 "Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-latitudes, presented at December's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Francis presented new research that has just been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, 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. Dr. Francis describes her work in a March 5, 2012 post on the Yale environment360 web site.

"Even if the current weather situation may seem to speak against it, the probability of cold winters with much snow in Central Europe rises when the Arctic is covered by less sea ice in summer." That was the opening sentence of a January 26, 2012 press release by a group of European scientists, led by Ralf Jaiser of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. The words proved prescient, because that day marked the beginning of a brutal two-week cold air outbreak over Central and Eastern Europe that killed 823 people and did over $660 million in damage, according to preliminary estimates by insurance broker Aon Benfield. Dr. Jaiser's team, using modeling studies, showed that Arctic sea ice loss weakens upper-level winds over the Arctic in winter, allowing an increased chance of cold air surges over Europe.


Figure 4. Digging out in Maryland after "Snowmageddon" on February 4, 2010. Image credit: wunderphotographer chills.

Why was the winter of 2011 - 2012 so warm in the U.S.?
The winter of 2011 - 2012 in North America was unusually warm--the fourth warmest on record. The cold air spilling out of the Arctic during the winter was confined to Europe, unlike that previous two winters, which were unusually cold and snowy in the Eastern U.S. Obviously, loss of Arctic sea ice is not having the same impact each winter; such factors as El Niño/La Niña, the phase of the 11-year sunspot cycle, and the amount of snow cover in Siberia also have strong influences on the winter weather pattern that sets up. Cold air is less likely to spill out of the Arctic during a solar maximum, as we are now headed towards, so this factor may tend to reduce the odds of getting big cold blasts in the U.S. during the coming two winters. However, cold air may be more likely to spill out of the Arctic in winter due to the decades-long pattern of warming and cooling of Atlantic Ocean waters known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). A 2012 study by NASA scientists found that the warm phase of the AMO (like we have been in since 1995) causes more instances of atmospheric blocking, where the jet stream gets "stuck" in place, leading to long periods of extreme weather. It will be interesting to see how all these factors play out in the coming years. If these three newly-published studies are correct, the U.S. should see more winters like 2010 - 2011 and 2009 - 2010 in coming decades, as Arctic sea ice continues to melt and affect global atmospheric circulation patterns more strongly.

References
Francis, J.A., and S.J. Vavrus (2012), "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes," Geophysical Research Letters, 21 February, 2012.

Jaiser, R., K. Dethloff, D. Handorf, A. Rinke, J. Cohen (2012), Impact of sea ice cover changes on the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric winter circulation, Tellus A 2012, 64, 11595, DOI: 10.3402/tellusa.v64i0.11595

Liu et al. (2012), "Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall", Proc. Natl. Academy of Sciences, Published online before print February 27, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1114910109

Jeff Masters

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Quoting WDEmobmet:


So did you write that blog entry?


yes, i am the only SPLbeater here lol
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Quoting Barefootontherocks:
Possibly because the SPC does not put out a "Torcon Index."


he gives a 4 for an area, and thats within 50 miles. so within 20 miles, it would be 20% from SPC. and that isnt even close to being issued...his values i find bout useless.
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Is that supposed to go through your neck of the woods before the game Pat?

StL in mid 80s already, record for today is 88, likely to be broken.
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MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0413
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1215 PM CDT MON APR 02 2012

AREAS AFFECTED...ARKLATEX REGION EWD/SEWD INTO THE LOWER MS VALLEY

CONCERNING...SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH 126...

VALID 021715Z - 021845Z

THE SEVERE WEATHER THREAT FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH 126 CONTINUES.

BOWING MCS CONTINUES MOVING GENERALLY NEWD ACROSS E TX/SWRN LA. AS THE BOW SHIFTS BOTH NEWD AND EWD ACROSS WW 126 WITH TIME...ISSUANCE OF ONE OR MORE ADDITIONAL WATCHES IS EXPECTED.

LATEST RADAR IMAGERY SHOWS THE BOWING MCS EXPANDING AND INTENSIFYING AS IT MOVES ACROSS E TX AND WRN LA...AS DIURNAL HEATING OF THE MOIST
BOUNDARY LAYER IS RESULTING IN ADDITIONAL AIRMASS DESTABILIZATION. WHILE DEEP-LAYER WIND FIELD REMAINS SOMEWHAT MODEST...THE ALREADY WELL-ORGANIZED SYSTEM -- WITH 50 KT REAR INFLOW JET OBSERVED AT 1 KM VIA KLCH /LAKE CHARLES LA/ WSR-88D VWP -- SHOULD REMAIN INTACT THIS AFTERNOON.

GIVEN THIS LEVEL OF ORGANIZATION AND AN INCREASINGLY
UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT...DEGREE OF WIND/HAIL POTENTIAL WILL LIKELY JUSTIFY ADDITIONAL WW ISSUANCE. AS STORMS ON THE NRN FRINGE OF THE BOW CONTINUE NWD...A WW N OF THE CURRENT WW IS ANTICIPATED...AND SIMILAR NEW WATCH REQUIREMENT IS ENVISIONED INTO MS AS STORMS MOVE ENEWD TOWARD THE MS RIVER VALLEY.

..GOSS.. 04/02/2012



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MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0414
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1248 PM CDT MON APR 02 2012

AREAS AFFECTED...MUCH OF SC...ERN/NRN GA...ERN TN...WRN NC

CONCERNING...SEVERE POTENTIAL...WATCH UNLIKELY

VALID 021748Z - 021915Z

ISOLATED TO SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS ARE FORECAST TO DEVELOP THIS
AFTERNOON ACROSS MUCH OF SC...ERN/NRN GA...ERN TN AND WRN NC. A FEW
STORMS WILL BE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS.
HOWEVER...AN ORGANIZED SVR WEATHER THREAT IS NOT APPARENT
ATTM...WHICH WILL PRECLUDE THE NEED FOR A WW.

SURFACE OBSERVATIONS AT 17Z SHOW A COLD FRONT LOCATED FROM CNTRL KY
SEWD INTO NC...AND SHORT-TERM MODEL GUIDANCE INDICATES IT WILL ENTER
SC BY MID TO LATE AFTERNOON. THE AIRMASS AHEAD OF THE FRONT IS
CHARACTERIZED BY SURFACE TEMPERATURES IN THE UPR 70S TO MID
80S...WITH DEWPOINTS IN THE MID-UPR 50S TO LOW 60S. WITH ADDITIONAL
SURFACE HEATING...MLCAPE VALUES UP TO 1500 J/KG WILL BE POSSIBLE. IN
ADDITION...LOW-LEVEL LAPSE RATES ARE QUICKLY STEEPENING ACROSS THE
REGION...WHICH APPEARS TO BE AIDING IN CAP REMOVAL AND SUBSEQUENT
DEEPENING CUMULUS OVER THE SRN APPALACHIANS. THIS DESTABILIZATION
WILL FAVOR THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT BOTH ALONG AND AHEAD OF THE COLD
FRONT DURING THE NEXT FEW HRS. DESPITE GENERALLY WEAK NWLY
DEEP-LAYER SHEAR...MODERATE INSTABILITY AND A WELL-MIXED BOUNDARY
LAYER WILL FAVOR MULTICELL CLUSTERS POSING SOME THREAT FOR LARGE
HAIL AND DAMAGING WIND GUSTS DURING THE AFTERNOON.

..GARNER.. 04/02/2012
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Lake Charles
NEXRAD Radar

Base Reflectivity 0.50° Elevation
Range 124 NMI

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128273
Quoting MariettaMoon:
Really? I'm a little more conservative with that. I think the projections in the past estimated around 2050, but recent studies suggest more like the 2030's or something like that because of the feedback loops in ice volume that weren't being taken into account on climate models. I can't personally go any earlier than the recent data. What is it that makes you think it could be earlier?
The following graphs are NOT official forecasts, but they are based on official PIOMAS data. The trends certainly seem clear enough. Of course, something could happen to delay the inevitable, but those feedback loops of which you spoke are increasing:

PIOMAS

PIOMAS

PIOMAS

PIOMAS
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Good news: ...the basement [bedrock] underneath key portions of the Mississippi Delta, including the New Orleans area, has subsided less than one inch per century faster over the past 7,000years than the more stable area of southwest Louisiana...

Somewhat and less so good news: Large structures such as coastal defense systems could be relatively stable, provided they are anchored in the basement at a depth of 60-80feet below the land surface. [NewOrleans levees are anchored ~14feet below the surface, if I remember correctly]

Bad news: Sea level has risen more than 8inches during the past century, 5times higher compared to the pre-industrial millennium.

BAD news: The main concern is the continued acceleration of sea-level rise. [The lower subsidence rate means that] sea-level rise has already been a larger factor in the loss of coastal wetlands than was previously believed.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Quoting SPLbeater:
Link to my new blog concerning TC Daphne if you would like to check it out:D


So did you write that blog entry?
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Magnitude 6.3 - OAXACA, MEXICO
2012 April 02 17:36:43 UTC




This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.

Magnitude 6.3

Date-Time
Monday, April 02, 2012 at 17:36:43 UTC
Monday, April 02, 2012 at 12:36:43 PM at epicenter
Location
16.477°N, 98.287°W
Depth
12.3 km (7.6 miles)
Region
OAXACA, MEXICO
Distances
27 km (17 miles) SSE (148°) from Ometepec, Guerrero, Mexico
33 km (21 miles) WNW (302°) from Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, Mexico
109 km (68 miles) SW (216°) from Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico
176 km (109 miles) SE (133°) from Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Mexico
179 km (111 miles) ESE (103°) from Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico
Location Uncertainty
horizontal +/- 15 km (9.3 miles); depth +/- 7.7 km (4.8 miles)
Parameters
NST=379, Nph=379, Dmin=329.5 km, Rmss=1.01 sec, Gp= 47°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=B
Source
Magnitude: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Location: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Event ID
usc0008ui2
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128273
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128273
I'm not pissed, Issa being funny lol
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6.3 Earthquake in Mexico City
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128273
Quoting NativeSun:
Since we ae entering the first years of a cold PDO and the AMO will begain cooling soon with a very good chance of low solar minimum cycles starting I will make a wild guess that the oceans will cool some what and the ice will return.

Good luck with that!
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Quoting SPLbeater:


why is it, his numbers are ALWAYS significantly higher then the SPC's?
Possibly because the SPC does not put out a "Torcon Index."
Member Since: April 29, 2006 Posts: 153 Comments: 18621
Link to my new blog concerning TC Daphne if you would like to check it out:D
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Since we ae entering the first years of a cold PDO and the AMO will begain cooling soon with a very good chance of low solar minimum cycles starting I will make a wild guess that the oceans will cool some what and the ice will return.
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Arctic Sea Ice Volume is crashing fast.

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Quoting Birthmark:

No, CO2 is not driving the weather patterns. However, it is having a large effect on the climate.

Personally, I think we are far, far closer to having an ice-free summer in the Arctic than 20 years.
Good point..I think it will happen faster than forecast...It already has..lol
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Quoting Neapolitan:
I wonder, too...though I think it'll be gone completely in summer within just five years or so.
One might think that with a warmer globe, there would be less weather on the planet due to limited warm/cold air interaction. Maybe there was relatively warm and calm conditions when dinosaurs roamed the Earth..:)
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Quoting NativeSun:
MariettaMoon,Hi nothing will happn there will be pleanty of ice in 20 to 30 years. CO2 is not driving the weather patterns.

No, CO2 is not driving the weather patterns. However, it is having a large effect on the climate.

Personally, I think we are far, far closer to having an ice-free summer in the Arctic than 20 years.
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Quoting Neapolitan:
I wonder, too...though I think it'll be gone completely in summer within just five years or so.


Really? I'm a little more conservative with that. I think the projections in the past estimated around 2050, but recent studies suggest more like the 2030's or something like that because of the feedback loops in ice volume that weren't being taken into account on climate models. I can't personally go any earlier than the recent data. What is it that makes you think it could be earlier?
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MariettaMoon,Hi nothing will happn there will be pleanty of ice in 20 to 30 years. CO2 is not driving the weather patterns.
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Quoting MariettaMoon:
Believe it. That coupled with warming SST's is presicely why I believe we will see wild fluctuations in seasonal snowfall on the east coast, as days with snowfall will decrease on average, but amount of snow per storm will increase on average. I wonder what will happen when summer sea ice is gone in 25-30 years from now.
I wonder, too...though I think it'll be gone completely in summer within just five years or so.
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Thanks for the very informative blog entry, Dr. Masters. I think the following quote quite nicely encapsulates the issue:On another not, this graph of high and low temperature records that have been broken this year is startling

Even that graph doesn't do justice to the situation. Many of those new highs completely smashed the old records by many degrees.
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Believe it. That coupled with warming SST's is presicely why I believe we will see wild fluctuations in seasonal snowfall on the east coast, as days with snowfall will decrease on average, but amount of snow per storm will increase on average. I wonder what will happen when summer sea ice is gone in 25-30 years from now.
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Quoting CycloneUK:


WHERE IS YOU AGW NOW!?!?

/confirmation bias.


What are you talking about? Ice reforms every winter in the arctic. The ice is new ice, which is either very thin or basically slush. In other words, once the melting begins it vanishes quickly.

Maximum ice extents prove nothing. The important measures of ice are MINIMUM ice extent and volume. Those values are critical to determining whether or not a recovery or decline is taking place. Moreover, it's these values over decades that determine this.

Of the two, ice volume is the more indicative of what is happening in the arctic. The thinner the ice, the easier it is to break up, melt, and/or move around. Ice volume has dropped precipitously and recent manual observations show that even the thickest multi-year ice has suffered significant losses.

For more information, try here. You may also want to research the significance of sea ice extent and the factors that play into meaningful metrics.
Member Since: October 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1477
Wow, the ice recovery at the end of February was great! It is good to be back inside the two standard deviations for as long as it lasts.

Thanks Dr. M.
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Quoting OracleDeAtlantis:

It appears to have an outflow pattern in the northeast quadrant. It looks more tropical in characteristics to me, or at least subtropical.


i see what your saying, however an outflow boundary will be present in larger thunderstorms like these as well as tropical systems. Doesnt neccessarily mean thats its a tropical entity.
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The light purple is the color for Tropical Storm Watch, though I think they meant to post as Severe Thunderstorm Warning.

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Quoting RitaEvac:
Strange line



And a nasty one too. Brought down limbs at my house. A little more other places. Pics are from Orangefield.



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44. MTWX
Quoting WxGeekVA:
For the love of god, I know we want tropical season to start, but every thunderstorm complex is NOT subtropical or tropical!

Why not?? :(
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Quoting WxGeekVA:
For the love of god, I know we want tropical season to start, but every thunderstorm complex is NOT subtropical or tropical!


Whats up Geek why so tense lately? Relax man, got a longgg way to go you'll never make it out alive.
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Thanks Jeff...
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Quoting OracleDeAtlantis:

It almost appears to have an outflow pattern on the northeast quadrant. It looks more tropical in characteristics to me, or at least subtropical.


Except for the fact that there was not much in the way of rotation, a badly defined center, it went over waters too cold, there wasn't much of a pressure differential at the surface, and the MCS started over land, and just skipped across the water (barely).

Its kinda like saying "it looks like a duck" when it has 4 legs, no wings, fur, a tail, and barks.
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
Have you guys never heard of confirmation bias? He is being very sarcastic.


Yes, we've heard of confirmation bias.
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For the love of god, I know we want tropical season to start, but every thunderstorm complex is NOT subtropical or tropical!
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Strange line


Quoting WDEmobmet:
Plenty of Moisture to work with



Nice solid line as depected on False Color

It appears to have an outflow pattern in the northeast quadrant. It looks more tropical in characteristics to me, or at least subtropical.
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Quoting Minnemike:
i mean, he did type 'confirmation bias'.. that should be a clue for those taking the comment seriously ;)
(Edit: Ha! VA caught that too^)
and i agree, an ice-free arctic, patchy berg islands only, is likely a reality within this decade.


The Titanic's worst nightmare.
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Thanks Dr. M. Way too early yet to tell what effect the ice loss will have, not only as to the issue of frequency of "blocking" patterns in terms of the jet stream, but on the issue of North Atlantic ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream which circles around the North Atlantic and operates as a temperature moderator for parts of Northern Europe. Gonna be interesting to see if these general trends continue over the next 20-30 years.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9134
Quoting MississippiWx:
I don't believe CycloneUK is trolling or is even serious. Pretty sure it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but I digress.

Good post, Dr. Masters. I think we may finally be seeing what could happen with an ice-free Arctic and I'm afraid we've only scratched the surface.

i mean, he did type 'confirmation bias'.. that should be a clue for those taking the comment seriously ;)
(Edit: Ha! VA caught that too^)
and i agree, an ice-free arctic, patchy berg islands only, is likely a reality within this decade.
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Have you guys never heard of confirmation bias? He is being very sarcastic.
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CycloneUK is missing the connection between the loss of sea-ice and weather. In Winter, the sea-ice rapidly forms after the end of the Summer melt season. The greatest impact is expected to be during Fall and early Winter. The data appears to be showing this impact, if one cares to take the time to look at it.

But, here's another look at the recent spate of record temperatures in the US. Compare that graph with what we saw in 2000 and in 2002. Reds are high maximum, blues are negative of low minimums:

US Record Events, Winter-Spring 2012 US REcord Temperature Events, 1 Dec 1999 to 31 May 2000 US Record Temperatures, Winter-Spring 2002, From NCDC web site
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I don't believe CycloneUK is trolling or is even serious. Pretty sure it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but I digress.

Good post, Dr. Masters. I think we may finally be seeing what could happen with an ice-free Arctic and I'm afraid we've only scratched the surface.

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Lambert's C concourse reopens today after repairs/renovations from last year's Good Friday (Apr 22nd) EF-4 tornado.
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Quoting WxGeekVA:


Or, at least that's what I am suspecting here...
i don't think so.. maybe just a hidden sarcasm flag :P
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Thanks for the very informative blog entry, Dr. Masters. I think the following quote quite nicely encapsulates the issue:
Quoting Jeff Masters:
"The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric circulation...it's how can it not?"
On another not, this graph of high and low temperature records that have been broken this year is startling:

hot
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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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