Quantcast

Why is it so Warm in December?

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’

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less