Dreaming of a brown Christmas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:04 AM GMT on December 28, 2006

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It's the year of the brown Christmas. The lack of snow across the entire Northern Hemisphere has been remarkable both in its areal coverage and depth, thanks to December temperatures 5-20 degrees F above normal. In the U.S., most of the eastern 2/3 of the country was snow free on Christmas (Figure 1). Granted, Colorado had a white Christmas and the mountains of Washington got slammed with snow this year, but places like northern Maine and Michigan's Upper Peninsula--which normally (Figure 2) have over two feet of snow on the ground this time of year--were snow-free. Munising, Michigan had it's first brown Christmas since 1911, and Minneapolis, Minnesota--which normally receives over 18 inches of snow by this time of year--has had a paltry one inch of snow so far this winter.


Figure 1. The U.S. white Christmas map. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 2. The departure from normal of snow depth on Christmas day 2006. Note the large areas of orange across northern New England and northern Michigan where snow depths are over 2 feet below normal.

Hitler and Napoleon missed their chance
The warmth and lack of snow are also affecting all of Europe. The famed Russian winter that stopped the armies of Hitler and Napoleon has failed to show up this year. Virtually all of Europe has seen the warmest and least snowy December on record, to go with their warmest fall on record. Temperatures in Moscow this December have hit 47 F, a full 87 degrees above the lowest readings recorded last winter. The brown bears at the Moscow zoo have refused to hibernate for the first time ever, thanks to the record warmth.

Normally, an unusually warm winter in one part of the Northern Hemisphere means that another region is receiving an unusually cold winter. A persistent kink in the jet stream pattern typically sets up in these cases, pumping cold air from the pole down to one region, and warm subtropical air northwards into an adjacent region. However, that is not the case this year. Land areas in huge areas of the Northern Hemisphere, including most of Asia (Figure 4), have temperatures well above normal. This is something I've never seen before--there's almost no cold Arctic air to be found. Note, however, that the unusual warmth does not extend to the Southern Hemisphere; December has been colder than normal across much of Africa, South America, and Australia. Melbourne, Australia had its coldest Christmas Day on record with the temperature peaking at 14.5C. The previous lowest recorded temperature was 15.9C, in 1935.


Figure 3. Northern Hemisphere snow cover on Christmas Day 2006. Note the complete lack of snow over Europe, except in northern Scandinavia. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 4. Northern Hemisphere departure of temperature from normal (in Centigrade) for Dec 1 - Dec 25 2006. Note that almost all the land areas of North America, Europe, and Asia were well above normal.

Will it stay warm?
When my nephew Cody eagerly unwrapped his new snow board this Christmas and asked me when he might get a chance to use it, I told him, "What are you thinking? This is Michigan in the 21st century! There's not going to be any more snow." I exaggerate slightly, but I don't recommend that anyone invest in the winter sports equipment industry this year. The latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model shows no end in sight for the warm conditions in North America. I'm guessing that our next outbreak of cold Arctic air in the U.S. won't come until mid-January. According to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University (IRI), January through March should be warmer than average across virtually the entire globe.

The unusual warmth this winter probably has four main causes. Firstly, this is an El Nino year, and it is common for portions of the Northern Hemisphere to experience warmer than average conditions during these events. Add to this the warming due to the observed global warming trend of 1 degree F over the past century, and the usual natural variability due to such phenomena as the North Atlantic Oscillation. Now, let's talk about sea ice in the Arctic. The Arctic Ice Cap has shrunk by about 20% since 1979, and at the end of November this year, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic was about 2 million square kilometers less than had even been seen in any previous November. December has also seen the lowest sea ice coverage for any December on record. All this exposed water provides a huge source of heat and moisture in the Arctic that retards the formation of the usual cold air masses over the adjacent regions of Canada and Siberia. It's impossible to know how much of an effect this has without doing some detailed model studies, but I think the record low sea ice in the Arctic is probably a significant contributor to this winter's record warmth. The Arctic Ice Cap is expected to continue to decline, due to human-caused global warming, according to the 2004 study by 300 scientists, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Many of us who are used to the reality of a white Christmas will find it only a dream in the coming years. I expect that the unnaturally warm winters we've experienced the past two years in the U.S. will become the norm ten years from now--and may already be the new norm.


Figure 5. Northern Hemisphere sea ice area departure from normal for Novembers from 1979 to 2006. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Jeff Masters

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278. sandcrab39565
5:48 PM CST on December 29, 2006
Pat just talked to LIX the next model runs will be the best that we will have to see how we are affected.
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277. Patrap
4:57 PM CST on December 29, 2006
SEVERE page updatedLink
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
276. Patrap
4:55 PM CST on December 29, 2006
Bad Situation in Dallas area..Ft Worth..Arlington..Tornadoes on the Ground...
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
273. Skyepony (Mod)
10:04 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
11 tornado reports for TX in the last 3 hrs. Some possible injuries.

Thanks Patrap & Saddlegait. Patrap, that article you posted yesterday was awesome. I read the whole thing, not just #3. There are many valid reasons to stop using oil. & Saddlegait you've posed a lot of good questions.
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272. hurricane23
5:10 PM EST on December 29, 2006
Looks like 4-5 inches of rain is instore for you guys near texas in the next couple of days.

For more storm info and maps visit my website @ Adrian's weather click on storm page.comments welcomed in my guestbook.Thanks Adrian
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268. Trouper415
8:36 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
Weather.com/Accuweather arent talking the Tornado situation up much........
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267. atmosweather
3:00 PM EST on December 29, 2006
There are already 70 degree dew points in south Texas. Combine that with 2000-3500 kg/J CAPE, extremely strong low level jet and high shear, and you have one heck of a situation.
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264. Thunderstorm2
7:47 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
That doesn't sound good
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261. Thunderstorm2
7:31 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
Whatever you say
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259. Thunderstorm2
7:24 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
There is no invest tagged on it
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256. Thunderstorm2
7:19 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
That flare up of storms in the eastern pacific is not forecast to become a depression because its in an area of unfavourable conditions.
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254. Trouper415
7:04 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
Hey Taz how have you been my friend? Any snow yet this year?

Can anyone post a link to longterm forcasts for California? Thanks
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253. Thunderstorm2
7:17 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
a low pressure area is churning northeast of Madagascar, close to the area where Tropical Cyclone Bondo developed. The low is centered near 10 south and 54 east. Within the next 24 hours, the low has a good chance of developing into a tropical system. Should this occur, the storm would be named Clovis.
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252. HurricaneMyles
7:00 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
You're talking bout the flare up near 9N and 103W? Looks like there might be a surface circulation trying to form. But its not getting much help from the coriolis force and shear thats around 30kts. And Navy isnt showing much interest, not even an invest tagged on it.
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251. Thunderstorm2
7:09 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
90S is getting stronger Link
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249. Tazmanian2007
10:57 AM PST on December 29, 2006
cyclonebuster is Greenland all icy? and its raining there?
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243. hurricane23
1:23 PM EST on December 29, 2006
All i can say is wow!
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242. bappit
6:11 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
That dubious YouTube link deserves another.
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241. Tazmanian2007
10:15 AM PST on December 29, 2006
evere one run the sea level is going up lol
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239. BigBake
5:58 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
The only info on the video was that its contrast has been edited to improve the visibilty of the wave. All my sources say that was a real time video and that the waves spread at nearly 700,000 miles per hour.
238. bappit
6:03 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
2007 is upon us. Time to get ready!
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237. MisterPerfect
6:01 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
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236. Tazmanian2007
9:59 AM PST on December 29, 2006
oh sorry did not see the commet


oh did any see some in new with my id?
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235. bappit
5:57 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
It was posted previously, Taz. Interesting story though. Comments are above.
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234. bappit
5:54 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
How fast did the sun-ami travel? Is the movie in real time?
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233. Tazmanian2007
9:54 AM PST on December 29, 2006
Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic
POSTED: 11:31 a.m. EST, December 29, 2006
Story Highlights• Scientist: "Disturbing event" shows "we are crossing climate thresholds"
• Researchers using satellite images discovered 2005 event
• Collapse picked up by earthquake monitors 155 miles away
Adjust font size:
TORONTO, Ontario (AP) -- A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. (Watch the satellite images that clued in ice watchers)

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic.

Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and point their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.

"It is consistent with climate change," Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906.

"We aren't able to connect all of the dots ... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."

Laurie Weir, who monitors ice conditions for the Canadian Ice Service, was poring over satellite images in 2005 when she noticed that the shelf had split and separated.

Weir notified Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa, who initiated an effort to find out what happened.

Using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It's pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent's team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere's Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We're losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

The spring thaw may bring another concern as the warming temperatures could release the ice shelf from its Arctic grip. Prevailing winds could then send the ice island southwards, deep into the Beaufort Sea.

"Over the next few years this ice island could drift into populated shipping routes," Weir said. "There's significant oil and gas development in this region as well, so we'll have to keep monitoring its location over the next few years."

like hello any commets on this what you think of this ????????????????????????????????????
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232. bappit
5:49 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
From CB's link above, about an ice free Baltic:

The only headache is for fishermen.

"Fish are eating too much and getting fat in the current conditions," Kouts said.

Fishermen prefer lean fish, which give a better quality, firmer flesh when cooked, he said.

"Fishermen say there's not much sense in catching the fat fish as they are too flaky and fall apart" when cooked, Kouts said.


Someone on here probably knows a better way to cook the fish.

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231. BigBake
5:41 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
A huge explosion occured resulting in a wave traveling the surface of the sun. It was the result of magnetic feilds stretched to their limits and snapping like rubber bands. The force caused a massive outburst of energy outward and the magnetic fields retracting back caused a tsunami like feature to go across the surface. Now there was also a shock wave that traveled above the surface and around the sun. It eliminated all the filaments that float above the surface, it was like someone erased the features off the sun.
229. Tazmanian2007
9:43 AM PST on December 29, 2006
Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic
POSTED: 11:31 a.m. EST, December 29, 2006
Story Highlights• Scientist: "Disturbing event" shows "we are crossing climate thresholds"
• Researchers using satellite images discovered 2005 event
• Collapse picked up by earthquake monitors 155 miles away
Adjust font size:
TORONTO, Ontario (AP) -- A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. (Watch the satellite images that clued in ice watchers)

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic.

Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and point their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.

"It is consistent with climate change," Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906.

"We aren't able to connect all of the dots ... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."

Laurie Weir, who monitors ice conditions for the Canadian Ice Service, was poring over satellite images in 2005 when she noticed that the shelf had split and separated.

Weir notified Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa, who initiated an effort to find out what happened.

Using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It's pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent's team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere's Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We're losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

The spring thaw may bring another concern as the warming temperatures could release the ice shelf from its Arctic grip. Prevailing winds could then send the ice island southwards, deep into the Beaufort Sea.

"Over the next few years this ice island could drift into populated shipping routes," Weir said. "There's significant oil and gas development in this region as well, so we'll have to keep monitoring its location over the next few years."

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.