NEW BRUNSWICK, N. J. — If you’re worried about how climate change will affect the summertime heat, you may want to consider its effects on Old Man Winter. The brutal series of nor’easters that terrorized the American northeast this winter are representative of the kind of weather the region can expect in the future — thanks to warming Arctic weather, a new study finds.
Scientists at Rutgers University, in collaboration with Atmospheric and Environmental Research, found a link between rising temperatures in the Arctic region and the frequency of extreme winter weather in the northeastern United States. Study co-author Jennifer Francis, a research professor of marine and coastal sciences at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences wasn’t the least bit surprised by the findings.
“Basically, this confirms the story I’ve been telling for a couple of years now. Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south,” she explains in a university release. “These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer.”
The research coincides with one of the warmest Arctic winters ever, with record highs leading to extremely low amounts of crucial sea ice. Meanwhile, Americans battled extreme cold to go along with the string of snowstorms, some brought about by the “bomb cyclones” that battered the eastern seaboard.
Francis’ team found the weather events were no coincidence. When Arctic temperatures are abnormally warm, severe winter weather is two to four times as likely in the eastern U.S. than when Arctic temperatures are abnormally cold. They also found that the effect is reversed for the western United States.
The problem exists when the warm temperatures rise beyond the surface to the stratosphere, where the warm air disrupts the polar vortex.
“Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern U.S. and warm, dry conditions to the West, while the Arctic has been off-the-charts warm,” says Francis. “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.”
The study was published online March 13, 2018 in the journal Nature Communications.