Weakened 'polar vortex' blamed for N. American chill

Jan 06, 2014
'Polar vortex' headed south into United States
Map of north America showing the extremely cold weather front headed south

The bitter chill gripping North America is a result of Arctic air that has spilled southwards, and global warming may be a cause, an expert said on Monday.

Arctic air is normally penned in at the roof of the world by a powerful circular wind called the polar vortex, said Dim Coumou, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) near Berlin.

When the vortex weakens, the air starts heading southwards, bringing exceptional snow and chill to middle latitudes.

The weather shift is also helped by changes in a high altitude wind called the jet stream.

This convection, which usually encircles the northern hemisphere in a robust and predictable fashion, starts to zigzag, creating loops of extremely cold weather or unseasonably mild weather, depending on the location.

"We've seen a strong meandering of the jetstream, and the cold air associated with the polar vortex has been moving southwards, and in this case over the eastern parts of Canada and the United States, bringing this extreme cold weather," said Coumou.

The phenomenon has occurred repeatedly in recent winters, he noted.

What drives the polar vortex is the difference in temperature between the Arctic and mid latitudes, said Coumou.

A pedestrian walks along Woodward Avenue in the cold as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather January 6, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan

Once sharp, this differential has blurred in recent years as the Arctic—where temperatures are rising at about twice the global average—warms up, he said.

"We've seen this type of cold spell more often lately in recent winters, in Europe but also in the US," Coumou said in a phone interview.

"The reason why we see these strong meanderings is still not fully settled, but it's clear that the Arctic has been warming very rapidly. We have good data on this. Arctic temperatures have risen much more than other parts of the globe."

Last month, European scientists reported that the volume of sea ice in November was around 50 percent greater compared with a year earlier, following a recovery in the Arctic summer.

Despite this bounceback, sea ice remains at near-record documented lows and its overall trend is one of retreat, they said.

Coumou cautioned that Arctic sea ice "is just one of the important factors" behind disruption of the polar vortex".

A man navigates the street as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather on January 6, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan

"Other factors include snow cover, stratospheric warming events or other short-lived phenomena," he said.

Other specialists said the link between warming and the spillover of Arctic air was still debated.

"There is no consensus," said Francois Gourand, a forecaster at Meteo France, the French national meteorological agency.

Commuters make a sub-zero trek to offices on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois

"The melting of sea ice can have an impact on atmospheric circulation but these effects are complex and hard to pin down," he said.

"The overall trend of the sea ice is downwards, yet in Europe we can have mild winters sometimes, or cold winters—there doesn't seem to be a clear link."

Explore further: Good news for Arctic, as sea ice volume up by half

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User comments : 42

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OdinsAcolyte
3 / 5 (10) Jan 06, 2014
Sigh. Nothing more.
Returners
2.6 / 5 (28) Jan 06, 2014
Heatwave:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Cold Snap:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Drought:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Flood:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Too many Hurricanes:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Too few Hurricanes:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Too many Tornadoes:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

no Tornadoes:
"Oh My God blame AGW."

Everybody, think of two different things which are opposite and contradictory, which I haven't already listed, and blame it on AGW. Then you'll be a "Climate Scientist".
shavera
3.1 / 5 (17) Jan 06, 2014
Yep, Returners, you're absolutely correct. Climate is a challenging thing, distinct from specific weather events. I'm pretty sure that was covered in like... 4th grade science class. Good on ya, mate. Gold star for the day. 1 star that is.
VENDItardE
2.5 / 5 (16) Jan 06, 2014
The bitter chill gripping North America is a result of Arctic air that has spilled southwards, and global warming may be a cause, a "so called" expert said on Monday. Dim Coumou, whose name is most appropo, along with Stefan Rahmstorf, previously released a paper which asserts that the 2010 Russian summer heat wave was, with 80% probability, the result of a background warming trend. They state in that paper that "We further find that the sum of warm plus cold extremes increases with any climate change, whether warming or cooling. " I take a "dim" view of their research which appears to say that the world is in a magical charmed state and that any change will be for the worse. Keep up the good, I mean dim, work Dim(wit).
cantdrive85
2.9 / 5 (17) Jan 06, 2014
Yep, Returners, you're absolutely correct. Climate is a challenging thing, distinct from specific weather events. I'm pretty sure that was covered in like... 4th grade science class. Good on ya, mate. Gold star for the day. 1 star that is.


But this "scientist" missed the 4th grade so he claims the climate is causing this specific weather event... MORON!
radek
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2014
current position of jest stream over North America is normal comparing to average.
http://www.nc-cli...nter.jpg
http://squall.sfs...t_00.gif

One thing is different - the speed is greater. In theory jet stream is stronger when temperatures in Arctic are in greater contrast comparing to equitor temperatures. But we observe oposite situation contrast is lower as Arctic is significantly warmer. Can anyone explain what`s going on?
ryggesogn2
2.6 / 5 (10) Jan 06, 2014
The bitter chill gripping North America is a result of Arctic air that has spilled southwards, and global warming may be a cause, an expert said on Monday


Same thing happened in the 60s and 70s, too.
Was that AGW?
ekim
2.8 / 5 (9) Jan 06, 2014
The bitter chill gripping North America is a result of Arctic air that has spilled southwards, and global warming may be a cause, an expert said on Monday


Same thing happened in the 60s and 70s, too.
Was that AGW?

A single storm is weather. Multiple years of record breaking weather is climate. Our current best theories for climate, accurately predict the increase in such record breaking events. Are you aware of any other theories which would explain this increase in extreme weather events?
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (12) Jan 06, 2014
explain this increase in extreme weather events?

Extreme compared to what, the past 100 years of decent record keeping?
Or compared to the extreme of a glacier covering most of Canada?
verkle
2.2 / 5 (11) Jan 06, 2014
Too often we think we have extreme weather events, when if fact most if not all of these events are just a repeat of things that happened in years past.

VENDItardE
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 06, 2014
The bitter chill gripping North America is a result of Arctic air that has spilled southwards, and global warming may be a cause, an expert said on Monday


Same thing happened in the 60s and 70s, too.
Was that AGW?

A single storm is weather. Multiple years of record breaking weather is climate. Our current best theories for climate, accurately predict the increase in such record breaking events. Are you aware of any other theories which would explain this increase in extreme weather events?


please tell me you are a troll because if you are really this stupid.......all is lost and society will end.
ekim
3.3 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2014
explain this increase in extreme weather events?

Extreme compared to what, the past 100 years of decent record keeping?
Or compared to the extreme of a glacier covering most of Canada?

Answering my question with two questions? Does that mean no alternate theories exist?

Too often we think we have extreme weather events, when if fact most if not all of these events are just a repeat of things that happened in years past.


The question is not the existence of extreme weather events, but the most probable cause for the increase in such events.

please tell me you are a troll because if you are really this stupid.......all is lost and society will end.

Resorting to name calling usually means you have already lost the argument. ;)
goracle
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 07, 2014
runrig
4 / 5 (9) Jan 07, 2014
current position of jest stream over North America is normal comparing to average.
http://www.nc-cli...nter.jpg
One thing is different - the speed is greater. In theory jet stream is stronger when temperatures in Arctic are in greater contrast comparing to equitor temperatures. But we observe oposite situation contrast is lower as Arctic is significantly warmer. Can anyone explain what`s going on?


Yes:
Cold air creates a cyclonc circulation, which is convergent and so self reinforcing. The strength of the jet at it's periphery is in direct proportion to the DeltaT there. Cold + warm squeezed together. This "Pole of cold" doesn't always sit at the NP and is also not always a single vortex - it's actually expected to split a bit of it into N Russia in the next 10 days. As these PV chunks move they take the coldest air with them and the Arctic itself becomes warmer. This has been quite common lately, perhaps due warmer arctic waters
Joeybegood
1 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2014
Anyone noticed the large number of volcanic eruptions over the past few years? Volcanic dust blocks sunlight and may be causing a warming of the strato/troposphere where the evil polar vortex lurks, causing it to 'break down' and move south. So AGW causes volcanic eruptions too?
radek
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2014
Cold air creates a cyclonc circulation, which is convergent and so self reinforcing. The strength of the jet at it's periphery is in direct proportion to the DeltaT there. Cold + warm squeezed together. This "Pole of cold" doesn't always sit at the NP and is also not always a single vortex - it's actually expected to split a bit of it into N Russia in the next 10 days. As these PV chunks move they take the coldest air with them and the Arctic itself becomes warmer. This has been quite common lately, perhaps due warmer arctic


so the title is misleading - it`s not a weakening jet stream which is in fact stronger then normal. Looks like it`s completly different mechanism then last year cold spell in Europe when jet stream slowed down and we experienced antycyclon and eastern winds similar to NP. Can You explain why cyclon was created in such cold air - shoudn`t it descend creating anticyclone?
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2014
"About this time of year in 1777, just before the Battle of Princeton, there was a similar sequence. On January 2, Cornwallis's men marched south from New York City through cold rain and muddy roads to try to trap George Washington and his little Continental Army in Trenton . On the night of January 2-3, a polar vortex swept across New Jersey, with snow and a very hard freeze. Aided by the extremely cold weather, Washington was able to evacuate his troops and artillery over newly frozen roads and to avoid Cornwallis's encirclement. Reaching Princeton on the viciously cold morning of January 3, Washington won another battle against the British and escaped to winter quarters in Morristown. Thank you polar vortex!"
http://www.climat...osphere/
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2014
I have seen this before
http://www.youtub...jxpMb7oU
runrig
3.7 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2014
so the title is misleading - it`s not a weakening jet stream which is in fact stronger then normal. Looks like it`s completly different mechanism then last year cold spell in Europe when jet stream slowed down and we experienced antycyclon and eastern winds similar to NP. Can You explain why cyclon was created in such cold air - shoudn`t it descend creating anticyclone?

Well spotted radek – the title is misleading and wrong.
The PV is actually the opposite of weakened – it's strong and actually unusually so in the Stratosphere (temps down to –90C there) – though weakening aloft now – and as I say, expected to allow cold into Europe later this month. Last year a SSW – a stronger version (though this may yet develop) caused the cold spell in Europe.
http://metofficen...ing-ssw/

For the frigid air to sink S, there was descent in the Arctic and this built a High. The cold air came around the High clockwise, N'ly>E'ly.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 07, 2014
"According to the Energy Information Administration, 57 percent of U.S. households use natural gas to heat their homes. Nearly all other households use electricity. Additionally, two-thirds of electricity is generated by coal or natural gas.

Policies that make energy production more difficult have extensive regressive effects, meaning they disproportionately affect the poor. "
http://www.econom...you-cold
ekim
3.5 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2014
"According to the Energy Information Administration, 57 percent of U.S. households use natural gas to heat their homes. Nearly all other households use electricity. Additionally, two-thirds of electricity is generated by coal or natural gas.

Policies that make energy production more difficult have extensive regressive effects, meaning they disproportionately affect the poor. "
http://www.econom...you-cold

The natural gas that heats 57 percent and two thirds of homes would not be possible if it were not for the role the Department of Energy and the National Laboratories played in supporting gas industry experimentation with shale fracking. Now the government should further it's role in exploring alternative energy sources, just as it has done in the past.
runrig
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 08, 2014
I see some on here cant even stomach explanation of the meteorology re the current and future progress of the Polar Vortex. Even without reference to AGW, some here object to the mere telling of physical processes in the atmosphere.
Is it because I am "on the other side" - with scientific credentials and therefore personification of the Devil?
Look, I quite often give high marks to the opposite camp for sensible comment where they can shake off their paranoia enough to make sense.
I can see the merit in people - but then again I know there are shades of grey in the world and it's not all a socialist conspiracy created by the Democracy of the 50%+1. You know, those researches who are mired in riches and congratulate themselves with "pal-review" between long sojourns in the Seychelles, after a jaunt to the Antarctic.
Noumenon
2.8 / 5 (9) Jan 08, 2014
It seems like the environmental climate alarmists can't stomach missing the opportunity to use Polar Vortex events to bolster their propaganda, no matter what the science says....

'Scientists have found other indications of Global Cooling. For one thing there has been a noticeable expansion of the great belt of dry, high-altitude polar winds —the so-called [polar] vortex—that sweep from west to east around the top and bottom of the world.' - Time magazine 1974

'But not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that Global Warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely. Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles.' - Time magazine 2014
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2014
More fascist propaganda:

were not for the role the Department of Energy and the National Laboratories played in supporting gas industry experimentation with shale fracking


"On March 17, 1949, a team of petroleum production experts converges on an oil well about 12 miles east of Duncan, Oklahoma – to perform the first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing.

Later that same day, Halliburton and Stanolind company personnel successfully fractured another well near Holliday, Texas. Another experimental well fractured two years earlier in Hugoton, Kansas – home of a massive natural gas field – had proven the possibility of increased productivity.

By 1988, the technology will have been applied nearly one million times. The technique had been developed and patented by Stanolind (later known as Pan American Oil Company) and an exclusive license issued to Halliburton to perform the process. In 1953, the license was extended to all qualified service companies."
http://aoghs.or
goracle
3 / 5 (4) Jan 08, 2014
CBC interview with Mann re polar vortex and recent cold weather http://www.cbc.ca...8739814/
runrig
3.9 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2014
It seems like the environmental climate alarmists can't stomach missing the opportunity to use Polar Vortex events to bolster their propaganda, no matter what the science says....


Oh yeah Noumeny:

Pot calling the kettle back my friend - or put otherwise, sheer hypocricy.

How about....
http://www.huffin...346.html

"No matter what the science says".
Exactly.

Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2014
Well-meaning people will argue against and for Anthropogenic Global Warming theory until they are frothing at the mouth and blue in the face, but, hey, the blatant fact that is smashing on everyone on this planet is conveniently ignored. Forget "Global Warming". "Global Extreme Variations" is the one that is happening now! Next year, it may be Euro-Asia turn for the deep freeze, and North America a scorcher and droughts! We are in for a global climatic yo-yo, it is happening.
orti
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 12, 2014
The article highlights one climatologist's speculation that this is due to warming in the arctic and buries a more reasonable "'There is no consensus,' said Francois Gourand" near the end.

AGW enthusiasts, such a phy.org, shoot themselves in the foot again.
Noumenon
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 12, 2014
It seems like the environmental climate alarmists can't stomach missing the opportunity to use Polar Vortex events to bolster their propaganda, no matter what the science says....


Oh yeah Noumeny:

Pot calling the kettle back my friend - or put otherwise, sheer hypocricy.

How about....
http://www.huffin...346.html

"No matter what the science says".
Exactly.



Is it more forgivable for skeptics to do it than than those claiming a scientific bases for doing it?
goracle
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2014
It seems like the environmental climate alarmists can't stomach missing the opportunity to use Polar Vortex events to bolster their propaganda, no matter what the science says....


Oh yeah Noumeny:

Pot calling the kettle back my friend - or put otherwise, sheer hypocricy.

How about....
http://www.huffin...346.html

"No matter what the science says".
Exactly.



Is it more forgivable for skeptics to do it than than those claiming a scientific bases for doing it?

Irrelevant, as you are not an actual skeptic.
Caliban
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2014
so the title is misleading - it`s not a weakening jet stream which is in fact stronger then normal. [...] Can You explain why cyclon was created in such cold air - shoudn`t it descend creating anticyclone?

Well spotted radek – the title is misleading and wrong.
The PV is actually the opposite of weakened – it's strong and actually unusually so in the Stratosphere (temps down to –90C there) – [...]what-is-a-sudden-stratospheric-warming-ssw/

For the frigid air to sink S, there was descent in the Arctic and this built a High. The cold air came around the High clockwise, N'ly


Most, if not all, of the confusion appears to arise from the relative terms "strong" and "speed" --since the two are not equivalent. The relative "strength" of the jetstream is only partly linked to its "speed", or velocity.

This is a somewhat messily written article, but a careful reading gets the essential information across. Thanks to goracle for links, and apologies to radek for downvote
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2014
Well-meaning people will argue against and for Anthropogenic Global Warming theory until they are frothing at the mouth and blue in the face, but, hey, the blatant fact that is smashing on everyone on this planet is conveniently ignored. Forget "Global Warming". "Global Extreme Variations" is the one that is happening now! Next year, it may be Euro-Asia turn for the deep freeze, and North America a scorcher and droughts! We are in for a global climatic yo-yo, it is happening.


Yes, we are indeed in for a global climactic yoyo, it is happening now, and it is driven by AGW.

It's pointless to discuss effects without addressing the cause, nyet?

The Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
One the one hand you got, algore, liberal democrat, inventor of the internet.

On the other hand you got Freeman Dyson. Spock level super genius.

It must be hard to a leftist, being so smart but following such nimrods to ruin.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
One the one hand you got, algore, liberal democrat, inventor of the internet.

On the other hand you got Freeman Dyson. Spock level super genius.

It must be hard to a leftist, being so smart but following such nimrods to ruin.

you are making the assumption that all scientists line up behind one or the other... blatantly wrong. your assumption that he is some "leader" and everyone is behind him is false, and can be directly refuted just by the arguments here in Phys.org
therefore your argument has no real basis in reality.

ok, Gore is an idiot. but scientists dont FOLLOW Gore, it is Gore who is using SCIENCE for his own agenda.
you want to slam him? fine. who cares

but the SCIENCE is still there. it still shows the same thing. and when most scientists peer review something and come to a general consensus, then i would question the outliers and require more proof which can then be investigated. regardless of pedigree or genius.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2014
It seems like the environmental climate alarmists can't stomach missing the opportunity to use Polar Vortex events to bolster their propaganda, no matter what the science says....


Oh yeah Noumeny:

Pot calling the kettle back my friend - or put otherwise, sheer hypocricy.

How about....
http://www.huffin...346.html

"No matter what the science says".
Exactly.



Is it more forgivable for skeptics to do it than than those claiming a scientific bases for doing it?

Irrelevant, as you are not an actual skeptic.


That fact that I am not a 'skeptical climate scientist' would strength the point, not weaken it.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
That fact that I am not a 'skeptical climate scientist' would strength the point, not weaken it.
This would be true, except for the fact that you are a denialist.

Denialist: 1. a person who does not acknowledge the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence; a denier.

I think the comment "you are not an actual skeptic" was meant to convey to you that a skeptic looks to the science and forms his own opinion, as opposed to someone like you, who denies the science except that which superficially supports his predetermined position.
Noumenon
4 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2014
That fact that I am not a 'skeptical climate scientist' would strength the point, not weaken it.
This would be true, except for the fact that you are a denialist.


If I was a "denialist", then that would strength the point even more so, not weaken it.

[But since I accept the core science, I am not a "denialist"]
Maggnus
5 / 5 (2) Jan 14, 2014
If I was a "denialist", then that would strength the point even more so, not weaken it.


Hmm, ok point to you!

[But since I accept the core science, I am not a "denialist"]


You do? Let me get this straight: You accept that the introduction of large amount of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere mostly as a result of humans burning of fossil fuels has resulted in an ongoing and increasing temperature rise on the planet?

Because Noumenon, that is the core science.

Nestle
1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2014
IMO the polar vortex wasn't weakened - but rather tilted/shifted from its axis. Siberian Asia faced quite hot beginning of winter instead.
Maggnus
3 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2014
Hey Nestle, you want to have a go at that again, this time in English?

Oops sorry for the 1, I clicked on it by accident. Well, depending on how you explain yourself, you might actually deserve a one, and seeing watt in your answer bodes badly for you.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2014
@Magnus,

How could it not effect the climate? The debate is dishonest on a number of fronts, starting with tossing the word "denialist" around as an ad hominem and umbrella insult, then adding 5mph to storms.

If the natural long term historical tend of co2 in the atmosphere was between 200 - 300 ppm and since the industrial industry it is now 380, and up to 40% of that anthropocentric source is absorbed naturally,.... we are talking tiny numbers here. Even considering the accumulation effect the reasonable predictions are talking about a few degrees per century,... which is eons in a technological age.

What I and the majority of mandkind rejects, implicitly by the continued increase in oil/coal consumption, is that the alarmism is justified by those tenths of a degree per decade.

The other issue is that the political left wishes to use AGW to install their progressive liberal agenda. Another one is the presumption that a few degrees in the next century is a cataclysm for mankind
Maggnus
5 / 5 (4) Jan 15, 2014
Noumenon - you say that you accept that it affects the climate, then you go on to make other statements that make it appear that your claim is that it doesn't affect the climate very much? This sounds like you are trying to have your cake and eat it too.
These are the arguments you seem to be making:
1. The increase in CO2 is tiny
2. The accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere will only cause a rise of a few degrees over centuries
3. It is a political attempt by "the political left" to install a "progressive liberal agenda"
4. The presumption by (who, the political left again?) that the change in temperature over the short term will be a cataclysm for mankind is "alarmist".

Please point out, where is the science in these? The science says that a 40% increase is huge, bigger than anything seen in at least 800,000 years to as much as 20 million years, and perhaps even longer than that. The science says the rise of a few degrees will have major effects on the planet's systems. cont... .