Poking through the superb maps Dr. Ryan Maue produces over at the Weatherbell site, I see three major models are showing a storm brewing up, moving north from Russia, and winding up smack dab over the North Pole by Sunday. (Click all maps and pictures in this post to clarify and enlarge)
Canadian These storms tend to be fun, as they force me to think outside of the box, as they make a complete mess of all my nice, neat textbook concepts. To begin with, they can spin the Beaufort Gyre Backwards, and make the Transpolar Drift reverse.
Last but not least, gales at the Pole smash up the sea-ice, and make a complete mess of my ideas on how the ice will slowly and gradually melt. I’m never entirely certain if such storms will speed melting or not, for I’ve seen differing results.
During the summer of 2012 a storm created so much open water that September set a record for the smallest extent, but the next summer a similar storm just shifted the ice around without melting much. My hunch is that in 2012 there was warmer water under the ice, but when the ice was smashed up and melted the water was churned, and the stratification that allowed a layer of warmer water to exist under the ice was erased, so that the water under the ice was colder in 2013 and the storm could not melt the ice. (I have not yet found data that proves or disproves this hunch.)
Also these storms tend to bring a lot of cloudiness over the Pole, which reduces the effect of the brilliant, 24-hour-a-day sunshine. Ordinarily the sun is so strong it can make snow wilt even when temperatures are slightly below freezing, and we can watch melt-water pools grow. Last summer was so gloomy there was less of that.
Lastly I have noticed that these storms seem to generate cold air as they weaken. I use the word “seem” because it is something I’m keeping my eye on, to see if it happens again and I can make it be “a general rule”.
I have to go, but will update this post later. The buoys are at risk during such storms, especially the ones that are near the edge of open water, such as Mass Balance Buoy 2015B. It looks nice and calm there now.
Up at the North Pole Camera, it looks like we are getting our first thaw of the year:
UPDATE #1 —MODELS SHOW POLAR RAIN CHANGING TO SNOW
One of the most difficult calls weathermen have to make involves rain changing to snow, or snow changing to rain. I cannot over-emphasize the potential for humiliation inherent in a situation where a fraction of a degree can make the difference between a harmless inch of rain and a devastating foot of snow. Living in the hills as I do, I have seen times when this fraction of a degree can mean a foot of snow at the top of a hill, and just some slush at the bottom.
The worst “bust” I ever saw involved a situation where a hair’s-breadth made the difference between rain and snow, and I watched a forecast change from. “Rain, beginning as a period of snow,” and then going through hourly graduations, from “2-4 inches of snow, changing to rain”, “3-6 inches of snow, changing to rain”, “4-6 inches of snow, changing to rain,” (and so on and so forth) until it was finally “18-24 inches of snow, ending as rain”. My heart went out to the poor weathermen involved, because I knew very well that the difference between rain and snow is less than .000001th of a degree. However I did think they should have stuck with their original forecast, “Rain, beginning as a period of snow.” (That forecast gets you off the hook of saying whether the “period of snow” involves a dusting or two feet.)
A similar situation is occurring at the Pole tonight. Fortunately nobody lives up on that sea-ice, where the rain may or may not change to snow. The current GFS maps show the developing polar storm sucking a plume of moisture north, and initially it falls as rain,
But in only six hours much of the rain has changed to snow.
Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for strange people like myself, who watch the melt at the Pole, the difference between rain and snow is like the difference between night and day. It is enormous. It is like the difference between driving home when it is 32° and raining, and driving home when it is 32° and two feet of snow has fallen.
When it rains up at the Pole, as it does, (they have even had summer thunderstorms), it speeds the melt of the snow on top of the ice, and hastens the creation of melt-water pools. Then the pools have an effect all their own, often (but not always) speeding the erosion of the sea-ice. The landscape has the battle-ship gray of slush, which is much more conducive to absorbing sunlight than the brilliant white of freshly fallen snow.
Therefore, if the temperature drops .000001th of a degree, and the rain changes to snow, it makes a world of difference. Why? Because freshly fallen snow has more power, in terms of reflecting solar energy, (the witchcraft word “albedo”), than anything short of covering the earth with aluminum foil. Rather than a slushy landscape of battleship gray, the landscape is brilliant white. Rather than the summer melt accelerating, it is like a game of snakes and ladders where you get sent back to the start, at the surface of the sea.
Of course, beneath the ice, melting may be eating away at the bottom of the sea ice, but that did not enter the arguments of Alarmists like Al Gore and Mark Serreze, when they spoke of an ice-free Arctic Sea victimized by a “Death Spiral”.. They didn’t look so deep, and instead emphasized the surface, which may be superficial, but if they want to argue at that superficial level, so be it.
In terms of the superficial difference between eroding sea-ice and growing sea-ice, the difference between snow and rain is huge. And the GFS shows snow, snow, snow at the Pole, as the current storm dawdles up there and finally starts to fill and fade away.
(At this point I should thank Dr. Ryan Maue for making such maps available, at the wonderful Weatherbell “Professional” site. It costs me something like 67-cents-a-day to have access to thousands of such maps.)
In terms of the visual images, it makes a big difference in the world of propaganda whether you are looking at slush and melt-water pools colored battleship gray, or brilliant white snow. It also makes a difference in terms the science that truly matters, but some become so lost in the politics, that propaganda matters more than science.
In terms of science, whatever will be will be. If rain changes to snow, or snow changes to rain, it is just wonderful and interesting data. However, in terms of Alarmists, if the current Polar Storm’s rain changes to snow, it is ruination. It is a “travesty”. If rain changes to snow, they rend their garments and gnash their teeth, for it undermines their faith, their religion, and their complete nonsense.
As a humorous example, I recently have been pestered by an Alarmist who has been delighted by the melt of sea-ice on the coast of Alaska, (which is earlier than normal this year.) I assume the early-melt supplies some sort of proof that his politics are correct. Therefore, though I bend over backwards to avoid the fellow, when I mentioned a cold wave was headed for the sea-ice along the coast of Alaska, on another site, (way down in the lower reaches of a comments section), he felt triumphant when he was able to counter my idea about coming cold with a picture of melt-water pools, ( which were the current conditions, back then.)
In other words, I was quite right to say a refreeze was coming to the coast of Alaska. It was just a reality, and had nothing to do with politics. I have no great desire to humiliate other people. They do a fairly good job of humiliating themselves.
In the same way, I have no desire to humiliate anyone by carefully watching the storm approaching the North Pole. Whatever will be will be. If the rain remains rain, it will have one effect, and if the rain changes to snow, it will have another. Who am I to take sides? Do I think it matters a hill of beans, to the powers of freeze and thaw, what I think? Of course not! I am just an observer. I am just an old-fashioned guy employing something once called ” a weather-eye.” I know I don’t control storms, but if one is coming, I want to see it coming.
UPDATE #2 —Saturday morning; storm approaching Pole—
The winds have started to pick up at the Pole, and our camera is starting to move. It got as far north as 88.021°N on June 1, and as far west as 15.522°W on June 4, but since then the winds have picked up and the buoy is moving southeast towards Fram Strait, and at last report was positioned at 87.65° N, 14.16° W. If the storm moves as forecast, the winds could swing around to the southwest, moving the buoy north again, as it continues to the east.
We did see our first thaw of the summer, with temperatures getting up to +0.4°C at 2100z on June 4, but the storm is sucking the cold air north of Canada back to the east, and temperatures at the camera have plunged back down to -5.18° C
The view is dull and gray at the camera, without the sun beaming down and melting.
However further away from the storm, just north of Greenland, O-buoy 9 is seeing bright sun, nearly calm winds, and temperatures getting up towards freezing.
The Canadian JEM model sees a sort of warm sector being pulled north through the Laptev Sea, as the cold wraps around from East Siberia to Greenland. (I don’t know why they can’t fix the smudge of numbers on the left side of the map; it has been there for two years; I just get used to it.)
And so it goes, with the storm still growing.
UPDATE #3 —Sunday Morning News—
The storm is likely at its peak.
The inflow of mild air north over the Laptev Sea is shifting east, and starting to occlude and be cut off, which will deprive the storm of fuel. Meanwhile the cold air continues to be sucked toward the Pole.
This has resulted in a drop in temperatures north of eighty degrees latitude.
Our North Pole Camera recorded the invasion of cold air, dropping from +0.5°C at noon on June 5 to -4.8°C at 2100z. (The weather updates are always a day behind, but the Mass Balance co-located temperature is -5.15° C for June 6.)
The 2100z report on June 5 had the winds up over 22 mph, and the ice had moved southeast to 87.669°N 14.529°W, and the co-located buoy had us at 87.56° N, 12.39° W on June 6. As the storm shifts towards Canada winds may back around to the southwest, and the ice may move back north, though the movement to the east seems likely to continue.
The view from the North Pole Camera continues bleak, cold and dreary
With air rising at the center of the storm, there must be descending air around the periphery, and this has made for sparkling clarity and excellent viability at O-buoy 9, off the north coast of Greenland. That camera has settles southeast, closer to the coast, and a remarkable series of pictures, with the mountains of Greenland on the distant horizon, has been ours to enjoy. The winds have been light, so far.
Over in the Beaufort Sea, the descending air at the periphery of the storm is also giving excellent visibility at O-buoy 11, where temperatures are cold despite the sun. Winds here have been light, but recently picked up a little to a breeze of 9 mph.
Further west, north of Bering Strait, O-buoy 12 may be seeing the advance of the occluded warm sector from Siberia, as clouds are on the increase. Temperatures remain cold, and the breeze here has grown stronger, to 18 mph.
Temperatures down on the coast of Alaska have warmed to -0.02° C at Buoy 2015A, and if the sun is out some melting should be resuming, but unfortunately the camera there seems to be taking the weekend off, as are the cameras at 2015B (where it is -4.95° C) and O-buoy 10, which is still showing the photo from yesterday morning, but reporting winds up over 20 mph and temperatures starting a diurnal rebound from below -5°.
What will be interesting to watch is what happens to temperatures as this storm starts to fill and fade. A lot of energy has been brought up to the tropopause (which is lower at the Pole), and there is a fair amount of interesting debate about whether this process loses heat to outer space or not. Some say the air that descends as the storm weakens should be colder, due to lost heat, while others say it should be warmer, due to latent heat released as water vapor condenses and then precipitates out as snow, and also the adiabatic warming of descending air. I’ll zip my lip, and just observe.
UPDATE #4 —Monday morning—
The storm remains fairly strong, but the inflow of “fuel” is now cut off, and seen in the bulge of low pressure protruding down towards East Siberia.
As the storm starts to fill we see our first sun in days at the North Pole Camera, though it is a gray sort of sunshine.
Winds up to 35 mph shifted our North Pole camera quite a ways east, though southward movement halted, and we are at last report at 87.49° N, 6.76° W. (Last year at this time it was already down to 85° and was north of Svalbard.)
The expanding cloud shield has ended our sunny spell north of Greenland at O-buoy 9, though a spot of sun shines on a distant peak to the center-right horizon. Temperatures continue to flirt with freezing as the sun slants up to its highest, and then fall back as the sun slants down to its midnight low-point. Winds are around 5 mph.
Clouds have expanded over Beaufort Sea, where O-buoy 11 shows a lead again opening, glimpsed just beyond the pressure ridge in the medium distance to the right. The breeze continues at 18 mph, with temperatures just below freezing.
And lastly, north of Bering strait O-buoy 12 sees snow and fog, with temperatures just below freezing and winds steady at 22 mph.
The storm is just starting to fade. The “fuel line” occluded front has swung over toward Being strait, and a small low is developing on the front, which should utterly cut off the supply of mild air and moisture to the center over the Pole.
The DMI map clearly shows the feed of mild air up to the Pole.
The feed for this storm has poured a lot of milder air north, and then stirred it around. All the thermometers are showing milder temperatures. As usual, the Canadian model sees things roughly two to three degrees colder than the GFS model sees. The GFS model produces a anomaly map, which shows the entire Pole two to three degrees above normal. I’m never quite sure whether to trust it or the Canadian.
In any case, it looks like the last of the winter’s cold has been drained off the Pole. Under 24-hour-a-day sunshine it seems impossible for any more cold to be created until the sun gets low in late August. However you just watch, and when cold appears, try to figure out where it is coming from.
Buoy 2015A is up and running again, and shows the thaw is resuming along the Alaskan coast.
Buoy 2015B shows the lead of open water has slammed shut, and a crack is right by the base of the Mass Balance Buoy. This camera may not last long.
The O-buoy cameras are showing grey weather. O-buoy 11 showed a shining patch of open water behind the pressure ridge, but I was in a hurry and didn’t save it. By the next time I checked the lead was closed up.
The next storm is likely to be in Barents Sea, and push a lot of ice down through Fram Strait. I’ll start a new post for that one.