By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Dec. 30, 2015
A storm system has carried unusually warm air into the Arctic, raising temperatures near the North Pole in the last two days to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
Recorded temperatures in the Arctic rose 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 3.6 degrees F) above freezing in recent days — a phenomenon that has occurred in winter only a few times before, according to Bob Henson, a meteorologist at Weather Underground, a weather forecast service.
“There’s been warm air for weeks over the eastern United States and parts of Europe … and it’s the warmest December on record,” he said. “It’s a sign of how much warm air was around when the storm system came, pulling that air to higher latitudes.”
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the world, scientists say. This year was the warmest on record in the region, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released earlier this month.
In the world’s northernmost permanent settlement, on the island of Svalbard, Norway, temperatures as high as 47.7 F were recorded at the airport on Wednesday.
“It’s the warmest temperature Svalbard has had in the last 40 years in the months from November to April,” Henson said.
The warm Arctic temperatures near the North Pole were all the more surprising, considering that it is dark 24 hours a day this time of year, Henson said.
But the strange weather won’t last long, and temperatures in the Arctic are already dropping in some parts. The area of warm air now at the top of the globe will gradually move to lower latitudes, Henson said.
While the unusually high Arctic temperatures were what meteorologists refer to as a day-to-day weather event, the conditions that fostered it are long term and ongoing — namely, El Niño and warming oceans — as a result of climate change, according to scientists.
Warmer ocean temperatures have supercharged weather events by providing extra energy to the atmosphere, making it warmer and moister. That has contributed to severe weather events witnessed in the southern U.S., which has experienced a spate of winter tornadoes, storms and flooding.
“And this is all happening in a year that is the warmest on record globally,” Henson said.