A study published on March 13th in Nature Communications suggests the northeast region of the United States may experience more frequent and stronger winter storms due to rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic. The study, done by researchers from Atmospheric and Environmental Research and Rutgers University, looked at historical weather data for US cities located in the northeast region of the country and concluded that “winter storms were two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm, compared to when it was abnormally cold,” according to a report by CNN. The same dynamic could be contributing to warmer, drier conditions in the American west.
The researchers were careful to point out the data they examined does not prove a definitive connection between warmer Arctic temperatures and colder weather in the US. Climate deniers will jump on those cautious findings to claim they prove nothing and can safely be ignored while we continue to pump millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Some of you may remember when tobacco companies used the same distortions to continue killing people for profit with their lethal products. The climate may change but the acolytes of the Koch Brothers and the oil companies never do.
“Because we could perform analysis on over 6,000 data points in comparison to less than 30 data points in previous studies, we could show a much more robust (and statistically significant) relationship between a warm Arctic and increased severe winter weather in the mid-latitudes,” Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at AER and lead author of the study told CNN.
He believes this study is the first to link heavier snowfall to higher Arctic temperatures. “As far as I know, for the first time we show that a warmer Arctic is also more favorable for heavy snowfall.” Co-author Jennifer Frances, a professor at Rutgers, agrees. “Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern US and warm, dry conditions to the West, while the Arctic has been off-the-charts warm. Our study suggests that this is no coincidence. Exactly how much the Arctic contributed to the severity or persistence of the pattern is still hard to pin down, but it’s becoming very difficult to believe they are unrelated.”
How difficult? “Our statistical analysis shows that one is more likely to be struck by lightning, attacked by a shark, and win the Powerball all at the same time than the possibility of severe winter weather in the northeastern US not being related to Arctic temperatures,” Cohen says.
It is not only the northeast United States that is experiencing unusual winter weather. Much of Europe has been in a deep freeze so far this year, causing Formula One winter testing in Barcelona to begin in freezing temperatures with snow on the track. “The publication of the paper is especially timely given the extreme winter of 2017/2018: record warm Arctic and low sea ice, record-breaking polar vortex disruption, record-breaking cold in both the US and Europe, disruptive snowfalls in both the US and Europe, severe ‘bomb cyclones,’ and costly nor’easters,” Cohen says, before adding the “winter of 2017/2018 is a textbook case of what we wrote about in the paper.” See graph above.
Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with weather.us, tells CNN, “This study highlights the difficulty in disentangling the cause-and-effect between Arctic warming and middle latitude extreme events. While no firm scientific consensus exists in the climate community on these Arctic interactions, this research communication will help direct future research and spur timely debate on a high impact climate change problem.” Maue was not involved in the research that lead to or the writing of the study.
Note: CT fellow traveler Dan Allard and I both live in New England and have been sharing recollections of past winters. We agree the weather we experience today is a lot different than we were used to growing up. To me, it seems as though the seasons have been advanced by about 6 weeks compared to what I remember. The snow we used to get in January now comes in March. Going to the beach in September was unheard of then. Now it is relatively common.
When I was a kid, ocean temperatures would shrivel your cojones pretty quickly. Now the Atlantic is walk-in warm. Lobsters have vacated local waters in search of cooler climes. Weather is not climate; I understand that. But something is definitely going on. Rather than belittling climate scientists, we need more basic research to better understand what is going on. Our survival may depend on it.