Not-so-icy pole: freak weather makes North Pole warmer than Vancouver or Vienna this week

Temperatures are set to hit 4 degrees Celsius at the top of the world, thanks to a powerful low-pressure system linked to tornadoes in the US and flooding in Britain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 8:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 1:29pm

A freak weather system that has brought tornados to Dallas and high winds and heavy rainfall to the UK means that North Pole will likely be hotter than Vancouver, Vienna or Istanbul this week.

The Arctic is expected to reach 4 degrees Celsius this week, about 25 degrees warmer than average for this time of year, meteorologists have warned.

Computer model projections indicate this would make it milder than much of Canada and the US.

Temperature fluctuations are fairly common in the Arctic, where shifts in sea ice cover can significantly affect local air temperatures, but such a strong variation is extreme.

“That’s absolutely terrifying and incredibly rare,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus told Slate.

“By any yardstick, these are extremely warm and likely record readings for the north pole,” noted climate blogger Robert Scribbler. The strange weather coincides with an unusually warm winter in Europe and the eastern US and torrential flooding in parts of south America.

The warm weather could affect the buildup of Arctic sea ice during the winter. Ice cover has already been vastly reduced by global warming.

The conditions have been caused by one of the biggest storms ever to hit the northern Atlantic, reaching speeds of up to 370km/h above the ocean. Storm Frank lashed the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with downpours and gale force winds on Wednesday.

Temperatures have reached or exceeded freezing point at the north pole during December on only three occasions since 1948, according to meteorologist Bob Henson of WeatherUnderground.

From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, a mind-boggling pressure drop associated with the weird weather system was recorded in Iceland: 54 millibars in just 18 hours.

This triples the criteria for so-called “bomb” cyclogenesis, which meteorologists use to describe a rapidly intensifying mid-latitude storm. A “bomb” cyclone is defined as dropping one millibar per hour for 24 hours.

As this storm churns north, it has forced warm air into the Arctic Circle. Over the North Sea, sustained winds from the south are blasting at 120km/h, and gusting to well above 160km/h, drawing heat from south to north.

Although there are no permanent weather stations at the North Pole, weather forecast models, which ingest data from satellites and surrounding surface observations, allow scientists to estimate conditions at Earth’s most northern location.

On Wednesday morning, temperatures over a vast area just to the east of the North Pole rose above the freezing mark at exactly 90 degrees North.

In other words, the area around the North Pole was about as warm as Vancouver and Chicago on Wednesday, and quite a few degrees warmer than much of the US Midwest.

Meanwhile in habitable areas around the North Atlantic, winds are howling and waves are rocking the coastline. In Britain, a week of excessive rainfall has pushed rivers and streams well beyond their banks, stranding vehicles and buckling bridges.

In a blog post on Monday, the UK Met office said that December has been a record-breaking month for rainfall in parts of the United Kingdom. A Christmas weekend storm brought up to 200mm of additional rainfall on saturated soil. The Met Office listed just a small portion of the December records that were set last weekend, in some cases blowing away the previous December records by 250mm.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post