Winter 2010-2011 is tied (so far) with two other years for having the most extreme winter on record in the U.S. It has had three Category 3 (major) or higher snow storms so far according to the Northeast Snowfall Impact (NESIS) scale (which ranks storms on a scale from 1 — “Notable” — to 5 — “Crippling”). This year’s winter as well as the two it tied with (2009-2010 and 1960-1961) have seen “an extreme configuration of surface pressures over the Arctic and North Atlantic referred to as a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO),” Dr. Jeff Masters of Wunderground blog reports. “In this situation, the band of winds that circles the North Pole weakens, allowing cold air to spill southwards into the mid-latitudes.”
Cities across the Northeast and Midwest have been setting more and more records.
A key point to emphasize (over and over again until it is clear): as the globe warms (as it clearly did in 2010, which was tied for the hottest year on record), more moisture is put into the atmosphere — that means more precipitation, more snow when it is cold enough and more rain when it is not.
This combined with the odd shift in wind patterns around the Arctic has a pretty obvious result: major snowstorms in the U.S.
Mercury Going to Jump in Your Thermometers
Now, the world is still warming overall, and the snow and some cold records in the U.S. shouldn’t fool you. I’ve seen word that January was actually the 4th-warmest January on record and more record highs were set than record lows.
And even if you’ve been seeing a bit of snow and cold in your area, that may soon change again. “After a record-shattering, frigid morning with lows well below zero in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas Thursday, temperatures could jump nearly 100 degrees in some areas by late next week,” Accuweather reports.
In the areas of Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas where temperatures dropped between 20° and 30° below zero F Thursday morning, highs in the 60s are in the forecast for late next week.
In some areas, temperatures could even make a run for 70°. This would be close to a 100-degree warm-up from Thursday morning’s frigid lows.
Strange? Well, only if you haven’t been keeping up with the scientific literature on global warming and climate change. Wild weather like this might just be the new normal, unfortunately.
And, if we don’t act soon to address climate change, it could get even much more extreme.
Photo Credit: NASA