Weather Weirding 401: Is Rapid Arctic Warming Delaying the Arrival of a Northland Spring?
Is our stunted, slushy, perpetually chilly spring in the Northland a fluke, or a trend? How much of this is "natural variation" vs. tied to a rapidly warming Arctic? These are great questions, especially now with a record winter snowfall and more accumulating slush potentially lingering into early May. Say what?
Is This Merely "Normal Weather"?
Weather has always been erratic and chaotic. Can we chalk perpetual March up to random "normal" weather with a fading La Nina cooling pattern in the Pacific? Perhaps, but there may very well be other variables at play here.
Here's the unfortunate thing: what happens in the arctic doesn't always stay in the arctic. The graphic above shows accelerating warming of the arctic since the 1980s.
Arctic Amplification Triggered by Rapid Warming May Be a Factor
The Arctic is now warming at a rate of 2-3 times faster than the rest of the planet. So what? There is a growing body of research suggesting that rapid warming over far northern latitudes is at least partially responsible for "Arctic Amplification", displacing arctic air farther south, especially in spring, mainly over the Upper Midwest. MIT Climatologist Dr. Judah Cohen combined observations and models to demonstrate that Arctic change is likely an important cause of a chain of processes involving what they call a stratospheric polar vortex disruption, which ultimately results in periods of extreme cold in northern mid-latitudes. The signal is still weak and the science far from unsettled, but lingering pockets of winter cold and snow may be linked to changes thousands of miles upwind.
Natural Cycles and Oscillations May Be Factors Too
Proving cause and effect may have been a factor in this interminable winter, prolonging snow and chill. The AO or Arctic Oscillation occurs naturally: lighter winds result in weaker jet stream winds blowing around the "Polar Vortex", making those winds wavier and more prone to breaking down, allowing bitter air to plunge southward into the US.
A negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation correlates with weaker winds over the Arctic and colder temperatures for the Northland. This may be part of the reasons we're shivering when we should be mulching.
For the record: I'm so sick of showing you snowfall predictions and I know full well you are sick of seeing them, so apologies. I am just the messenger. A storm forecast to stall over Michigan for a few days will inhale more cold air into the Northland, changing rain over to wet snow from Sunday into Tuesday morning, with a potential for a few more inches of slush on top of the nearly 140" that has already fallen. Good times.
I'm a naive optimistic, a glass-half-full (of beer) kind of guy, so I will light a candle, say a prayer and hope that any slush early next week is truly winter's last gasp. No promises, but we are due for a major pattern shift. I hope this is the last punch of cold and snow.
To summarize, chilly, slushy springs may in fact be a trend, linked to not only normal weather variables, but a rapidly warming climate and what's happening in the Arctic. Everything is interconnected.
Keep an open mind, stay tuned, and wait for spring's triumphant arrival.
I sure hope it's worth the wait.