Record cold temperatures in the eastern US are balanced by record heat in the west. Record snow falls in Boston; rain floods Albania; downpours douse parts of California that haven’t seen a drop of rain in over a month.
El Niño Eggplant is still cooking, and there’s even a typhoon in the northern hemisphere. Let’s go Around The World.
Storm-A-Week Boston Gets Its Third
After a very slow start to the snowy season in the northeast (less than 8 inches in Boston before mid-January), the jet stream has delivered a triple whammy in the last three weeks.
Children cheered and commuters complained as weather system Cayenne added a foot in the last few days to the several feet deposited by Garbanzo Bean and Horseradish. As of Monday morning, Boston’s 61 inches had broken its record for snowiest 30-day period since meteorologists started keeping track in 1880. And snow was still falling.
Boston normally gets 60% of its winter precipitation in the form of rain. But a cold high pressure system has pressed down from Canada to make these three storms all snow. An inch of rain is equivalent to a foot of snow, so it really doesn’t take much to pile up the white stuff.
The average melted precipitation in Boston is about 3.7 inches per month in the winter. Melted, the total precipitation is only 40% above normal this year — but that’s little consolation to weary shovelers.
Bitter Cold To Follow Snow
As Cayenne departs, the polar vortex will plunge south and bring bone-chilling temperatures to the entire eastern half of the country. The cold is likely to set records and will probably last at least two weeks.
US Split Between Red And Blue States — And We’re Not Talking Politics
Though the temperature of the earth has been rising by a degree per century, there is little fluctuation from day-to-day. So if it’s cold in one place, you can be sure it’s warm in another.
While the east gets ready for record cold, the west has been basking in the opposite. High temperature records were set in 11 states on Monday. The graphic above makes the temperature pattern clear.
What’s Causing The Extreme Temperatures?
In the long-term, climate change is likely to produce more extreme weather. But the identifiable culprit this time is a large low pressure center south of Alaska which has brought atmospheric movement to a standstill. Instead of moving west to east, weather systems are moving north to south or just not moving at all.
As the Alaskan low has deepened, the high pressure ridge over the western US has intensified, and so has the low pressure swirl — the polar vortex — over eastern Canada.
High pressure in the west and low pressure in the east sets up a direct pipeline (no Congressional approval needed) from high latitudes to the heartland.
In the Deep South, the cold is likely to be muted. But the northeast and midwest will experience a feedback effect that will make it just a little bit colder than it would otherwise be.
Albedo And Temperature
Some of the radiation that reaches the earth from the sun is absorbed by the ground (and a little bit by the atmosphere itself). But some of it is reflected back to space. The percentage of incoming radiation reflected is called the albedo.
Different types of materials produce different albedos; lighter colors reflect better than darker ones. Snow’s albedo is very high; so where there is a heavy layer of white stuff on the ground, much of the sun’s heat is sent zooming back where it came from.
The Weather Is Bogged Down Everywhere
When the jet stream gets bent out of shape in one place, it’s likely to happen around the globe. A slow-moving low pressure system has been dumping heavy rain on the Balkans, and Albania has experienced serious flooding.
There is no indication that the clogged arteries of jet stream flow will clear any time soon, so southern Europe should prepare for more stormy weather.
El Niño Eggplant Still Simmering
NOAAs February 5 update on El Niño is highly unchanged from the previous month’s: 50-60% chance of an El Niño this winter or spring. Decoded Science has named this event El Niño Eggplant because, though water temperature departures from normal don’t quite meet the requirements of NOAAs El Niño definition, they are sufficiently warm to produce worldwide effects like the November and recent rains in California.
It’s Typhoon Season In The North Pacific Ocean All Year
A typhoon in the dead of winter. It could only happen in the western Pacific.
Tropical Storm 02W became Typhoon Higos yesterday. It is headed out into the open waters of the Pacific, probably to be absorbed in the low south of Alaska.
Top winds will reach 140 miles per hour, making Higos an unusually strong winter typhoon. Super-Typhoons (winds over 150 miles per hour) are confined to the summer months.
How Long Will The Jet Stream Be Clogged?
As of now, there is no certainty that the cold in the eastern US or the rain in the Balkans will ease any time soon. Pretzelization of the jet stream occurs from time to time. Undoubtedly the pattern will return to normal at some point.
But the end result of global warming is unknown. What’s changing where you live?
Decoding Science. One article at a time.