Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Why is it so Warm in December?

Climate

Some on Twitter are having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit with temperatures far above normal for much of the eastern U.S.

On Sunday in New York City, temperatures topped off at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 30-year-old record. This year's strong El Niño is expected to give much of the U.S. a warmer than average winter, while southern states are expected to get an extra dose of precipitation. But while El Niño and, of course, climate change are certainly in play in this bout of exceptionally warm weather, at least one meteorologist said there's another culprit.

The record warmth seen in the Northeast and Midwest is "really associated with the strengthened polar vortex," Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service, told CNBC.

"I would not associate the lack of snow in Buffalo with El Niño," Halpert said on Thursday. "It is much more likely the Arctic Oscillation."

Polar vortex. Arctic Oscillation. It sounds like these should be bringing colder temperatures, not warmer ones right? After all, the polar vortex is part of the reason the Eastern U.S. had such a cold winter in 2014.

The Arctic Oscillation is a "change in air pressure at the North Pole that affects how far south cold air travels from the Arctic," explained CNBC. When the Arctic Oscillation is in its positive phase, cold air remains confined to the polar region. The belt becomes weaker in its negative phase, allowing colder air to move southward. The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. The weather phenomenon became well known in the winter of 2014, but it's something that has always existed.

"Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream," the National Weather Service said on its website. "This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States."

Right now, the Arctic Oscillation is really positive and the polar vortex is stronger than average, explained Judah Cohen, a meteorologist with Atmospheric and Environmental Research, in a recent blog post. That "has resulted in very mild temperatures across northern Europe, the Eastern United States and to a lesser degree East Asia," Cohen wrote. In short, all of that cold, Arctic air is staying up near the poles, but Cohen said the pattern is starting to change and "temperatures are likely to cool from their very elevated levels."

As for how the rest of the winter will shape up in the U.S., that remains to be seen. Weather patterns could certainly shift, as they always do, but there's no doubt they're becoming more extreme and harder to predict because of climate change. In a report last month, discussing one of the top three strongest El Niños on record, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said, "We are in uncharted territory" because the impacts of this so-called "monster" or "Godzilla" El Niño are exacerbated by climate change.

Last month, the WMO announced what climate scientists have predicted for months: 2015 is likely to top the charts as the hottest year in modern observations with 2011-15 the hottest five-year period on record.

For now, if all you want to know is if you'll be having a white Christmas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has figured out the statistical likelihood that your area will have snow on Christmas. Thank you, science.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

President Obama: Paris Climate Agreement a ‘Turning Point for the World’

7 Ways the Outcome of Paris Climate Talks Will Impact Your Day-to-Day Life

Arnold Schwarzenegger Doesn’t ‘Give a ****’ Whether You Agree With Him on Climate Change

Monsanto to Be Put on Trial for ‘Crimes Against Nature and Humanity’

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Deserted view of NH24 near Akshardham Temple on day nine of the 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus on April 2, 2020 in New Delhi, India. Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India is home to 21 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, but recently air pollution levels have started to drop dramatically as the second-most populated nation endures the second week of a 21-day lockdown amidst coronavirus fears, according to The Weather Channel.

Read More Show Less
A Unicef social mobilizer uses a speaker as she carries out public health awareness to prevent the spread and detect the symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus by UNICEF at Mangateen IDP camp in Juba, South Sudan on April 2. ALEX MCBRIDE / AFP / Getty Images

By Eddie Ndopu

  • South Africa is ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic in Africa.
  • Its townships are typical of high-density neighbourhoods across the continent where self-isolation will be extremely challenging.
  • The failure to eradicate extreme poverty is a threat beyond the countries in question.
Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The outside of the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Md. on Nov. 9, 2015. Al Drago / CQ Roll Call

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of two malarial drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, despite only anecdotal evidence that either is proven effective in treating or slowing the progression of the disease in seriously ill patients.

Read More Show Less
Some speculate that the dissemination of the Antarctic beeches or Nothofagus moorei (seen above in Australia) dates to the time when Antarctica, Australia and South America were connected. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

A team of scientists drilled into the ground near the South Pole to discover forest and fossils from the Cretaceous nearly 90 million years ago, which is the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
The recovery of elephant seals is one of the "signs of hope" that scientists say show the oceans can recover swiftly if we let them. NOAA / CC BY 2.0

The challenges facing the world's oceans are well known: plastic pollution could crowd out fish by 2050, and the climate crisis could wipe out coral reefs by 2100.

Read More Show Less