FY Society

A Rapidly Transforming Climate

Unprecedented evidence of climate change as Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides.

Jason Samenow

While the Eastern United States simmered in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded Tuesday and Wednesday, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.

“How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist and lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a non-profit organization that conducts analyses of the Earth’s temperature. “Well it’s Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won’t be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing.”

Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal.

The warmth over Alaska occurred as almost one-third of the ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s West Coast vanished in just over a week during the middle of February, InsideClimateNews reported. Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist based in Alaska, posted that the overall sea ice extent on Feb. 20 was the lowest on a record by a long shot.

Temperatures over the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year. These kinds of temperature anomalies in the Arctic have become commonplace in winter in the past few years. “[T]he *persistence* of the above average temperatures is quite striking,” tweeted Zack Labe, a PhD candidate in climate science at the University of California at Irvine.

The temperature difference from normal over the Arctic averaged over the next five days in the GFS model forecast. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)

As of Friday, the whole region had spiked more than 35 degrees (20 Celsius) above normal, which Labe called a “truly remarkable event” and the warmest in February ever recorded.

Some of the most extreme warmth of the year so far is forecast to flood the Arctic this weekend, with a number of areas seeing temperatures 45 to 60 degrees (25 to 34 Celsius) above normal. The mercury at the North Pole could well rise above freezing.

An analysis from Climate Central said these extreme winter warming events in the Arctic, once rare, could become commonplace if the planet continues warming. A study in the journal Nature published in 2016 found the decline of sea ice in the Arctic “is making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards.”

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The record-setting temperatures and lack of ice is exactly what scientists have projected over the Arctic for years and it’s fundamentally changing the landscape.


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