Temperature near North Pole jumped to 32 degrees Thursday

By Jason Samenow, The Washington Post - December 22, 2016

Santa may need water skis instead of a sleigh this year.

A weather buoy about 90 miles south of the North Pole registered a temperature at the melting point of 32 degrees (0 Celsius) early Thursday as a giant storm east of Greenland drew abnormally warm air northward.

Weather models had predicted temperatures could get this warm and this buoy, part of the North Pole Environmental Observatory, provides validation.

“It seems likely areas very close to or at the North Pole were at the freezing point today [Thursday],” said Zachary Labe, a doctoral student research Arctic climate and weather at the University of California-Irvine.

Temperature difference from normal as analyzed by GFS model on Dec. 22, 2016. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)
Temperature difference from normal as analyzed by GFS model on Dec. 22, 2016. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)

Data from the buoy show that air temperatures have risen more than 40 degrees in the last two days when they hovered near minus-11 degrees (minus-24 Celsius) which, even then, was above average.

The entire Arctic north of 80 degrees, roughly the size of the Lower 48 states, has witnessed a sharp temperature spike of nearly 30 degrees.

Consider the average temperature in this large region is around minus-20 degrees (minus-29 Celsius) at this time of year, but had shot up to 7 degrees on Wednesday (minus-14 Celsius) and will likely peak at higher number by late Thursday.

[Spiking temperatures in the Arctic startle scientists]

Labe said the huge flux of warmth into the region may have contributed to the loss of sea ice at a time when the region is usually gaining ice.

Near the Franz Joseph Islands east of Svalbard, satellite imagery shows a large mass of ice vanishing over the last day. “This is pretty dramatic,” he tweeted.

While the Arctic witnesses freak temperature rises, the cold air normally positioned there has sloshed southward into Siberia.

Temperatures there have crashed to about 60 degrees below normal, with air temperatures flirting with minus-60.

Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate the Arctic lost about 57,000 square miles of ice (148,000 square kilometers) in the past day, which is roughly the size of Michigan. Labe cautioned, however, the ice loss data are preliminary and require quality control.

In Longyearbyen, Norway which is on the island of Svalbard in the Nordic Seas, the high reached 36 degrees Thursday, according to Weather Underground, beating the old daily record of 33 degrees.

While it is common for large storms to transport large quantities of heat into the high Arctic inducing large temperature swings, the intensity of warmth — more than 40 degrees above normal — has caught the attention of scientists.

This is the second time in the last six weeks such a steep rise in temperatures has occurred. In mid-November, temperatures averaged over the high Arctic spiked to 36 degrees above normal.

An analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit science organization, found that a warm event of comparable intensity to what occurred in November “would have been extremely unlikely in a climate of a century ago” before heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere had grown to current levels.

“If nothing is done to slow climate change, by the time global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), events like this winter would become common at the North Pole, happening every few years,” Climate Central concluded.

A similar spike to the present also occurred last year, when a buoy near the North Pole also showed temperatures at the melting point. This sharp rise motivated a study in the journal Nature which concluded the loss of sea ice in the Arctic over time “is making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards.”