‘Missing’ Arctic cold weather magnifies European snow blizzards

28 Feb 2018

Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

As much of Europe tries to cope with a deluge of snow, the Arctic’s missing cold weather could be an even greater problem.

Despite it being officially spring, much of Europe is experiencing icy temperatures and disruptive snow due to what has been coined the ‘Beast from the East’.

While some might label it as a freak event, a number of climate scientists are pointing to the fact that the Arctic’s current heatwave is eroding the polar vortex while those of us further south experience it instead.

According to The Guardian, while the north pole typically gets little-to-no sunlight in March, temperatures in Siberia have skyrocketed above historic averages by as much as 35C.

One of the countries typically affected by these freezing temperatures, Greenland, has already recorded more than 61 hours of above-freezing temperatures this year.

Such wildly varying temperatures are now seriously worrying scientists who have called the Arctic heatwave “simply shocking”. It could mean that even our most pessimistic of climate change predictions could be too reserved.

“This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying; it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

“The Arctic has always been regarded as a bellwether because of the vicious circle that amplifies human-caused warming in that particular region. And it is sending out a clear warning.”

Unlike previous temperature spikes recorded as far back as the 1950s, this latest spike has persisted for significantly longer and at greater warmth.

Because the fluctuation of the winter temperatures are often dependent on natural occurrences such as polar winds and particularly the jet stream, it is now being theorised that these systems could be either weakening or in a state of collapse.

Too early to say?

However, there is no unanimous agreement among climate scientists on predictions of whether this will become the new norm for much of the rest of the world.

“This is too short-term an excursion to say whether or not it changes the overall projections for Arctic warming,” Mann added.

“But it suggests that we may be underestimating the tendency for short-term extreme warming events in the Arctic.

“And those initial warming events can trigger even greater warming because of the ‘feedback loops’ associated with the melting of ice and the potential release of methane.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic