Above is a gloriously simplified view of how the atmosphere circulates air, distributing the warmth north from the equator and sending the cooled air south. The problem is that, like many wonderfully elegant ideas, it is more of an approximation than an actuality. The planet’s winds are never quite so neat and tidy, and on occasion the planet bucks the system, creating a sort of short circuit, wherein a jet-stream digs so far south and then rebounds so far north it is as if all three “cells” are combined into a single entity. When all three cells have troughs that match up and “phase” you might as well take the above diagram and crumple it up. A new elegant view is needed.
The above diagram is applicable to zonal flows, when the planet has achieved a temporary balance and the jet streams circles the planet in tidy circles, east to west. However balance is a tenuous reality on planets that can’t even be stable about the simplest things, and our particular planet can’t even make up its mind about whether it should be summer in the northern hemisphere or in the southern one. When you throw other wrenches into the works, such as a huge volcanic eruption, or the sun shifting dramatically into a “quiet” state, then the balance starts to wobble. In a most amazing manner the planet regains its balance, but not without a bit of flailing, like a tightrope walker recovering from a gust of wind or a flock of birds landing on his balancing Pole.
The period of recovery seems to be marked by the zonal flow of the jet streams becoming less east to west, and instead developing north to south to north loops, in which case the jet stream is called “meridional”. This sort of flow makes a shambles of the elegant idea of Hadley, Ferrel, and Polar Cells. To a certain extent you can warp the Hadley and Ferrel Cells, but the problems get mind-boggling once you involve the Polar Cell.
You see, according to the diagram above, the mild air should arrive at the Pole aloft, cool, and then sink, which would create high pressure pressing down on the Pole, and then you can have cold, heavy, dense air pressing cold-fronts south. But a meridional flow brings warm air north even at the surface, and creates rising air and low pressure right where air is theoretically sinking and making high pressure.
Obviously we need a brilliant mind to draw a new gloriously simplified diagram of how this new and interesting meridional pattern circulates air, bringing warmth north and distributing cold south. I’m probably not the guy. Apparently, in order to come up with an elegant idea, one must be in some way elegant, and I’m painfully aware I have shortcomings in this respect. (My wife won’t let me go out the door without checking me over to make sure my fly is zipped up, my nose is clean, and my shirt is right-side-out.)
Not that I am not full of suggestions, when I notice the high pressure is not sitting on the Pole as theory commands, and instead a low is plopped up there. Here’s an old post from two summers ago:
Some may suggest that being full of ideas merely means “I’m full of it”, but I hope to point out things brighter bulbs will illuminate. Sometimes knowledgeable people are so entrapped by their knowledge that they are slow to see when an old elegant idea, such as the diagram that begins this post, simply doesn’t cut the mustard any more, as a new situation is arising which the old elegant idea doesn’t apply to. For this reason kings of old didn’t merely have wise scholars in the throne-room, but also a fool called the “court jester”.
I tend to be a bit droll when examining isobars and isotherms up at the Pole. Likely I’m not half as funny as I think I am, and more dour scientists would take a dim view of my irreverence, if they ever heard of it. Over the years I’ve had a way of naming both polar lows and polar highs, until even I couldn’t keep track of them all. (“Did I get tired, or did I just get lazy?”) Eventually I decided to call all lows “Ralph”, (for no particular reason), and all highs “Byoof” (short for the most common high pressure, the “Beaufort High”).
My general sense is that I have been witness to a change from a time when high pressure predominated (in old posts it was named “Igor” and not “Byoof”), to a time where Ralph has a habit of reincarnating in all sorts of fascinating forms.
This post is merely the continuation of earlier observations. As always, I will likely get drawn into wasting time arguing with Alarmists who think “the science is settled”, and I am committing some offence by reporting what is new. (Why? The very word “NEWS” apparently is short for “North-East-West-South”, and merely pertains to what you see looking around. Theoretically it should have nothing to do with “leaning left” or “leaning right”.)
What is new, to me at least, is that Ralph refuses to go away. He is making me look bad, because I thought he was brought about by the 2015 El Nino, and I forecast he would be less obvious this summer.
Indeed, when I last commented on the DMI maps back on June 9, it looked like Ralph had been knocked off the Pole and Byoof was going to dominate, with even a ridge of high pressure protruding into the North Atlantic.
72 hours later, even though the old Ralph was pushed south into a loop-de-loop in the Kara Sea, (like a well-mannered storm on the boundary between the Polar and Ferral Cells), a new Ralph was oozing north through Baffin Bay to the Pole north of Greenland. Though very weak, he divided the Atlantic part of Byoof from the Pacific.
Even though the Atlantic protrusion of Byoof was eroded away, it still looked like Byoof was going to shove the weak, new Ralph off the Pole. Indeed models suggested Byoof would dominate.
By June 13 the new Ralph was pushed south of Svalbard, as the old Ralph continued to mill about in the Kara Sea, and it looked like Byoof was dominant.
12 hours later it seemed Byoof was backing off the Pole, as the new Ralph, fading towards Norway, was nearly gone, but sucking up some Atlantic reinforcements. I was suppose to be attending to getting ready for a brief vacation with my wife, and not suppose to be fascinated by these maps.
36 hours later Byoof is looking weaker, and a reinforced new Ralph siutheast of Svalbard is reinforcing the old Ralph. The models are no longer showing Byoof as master of the Pole, and are starting to suggest the old and new Ralph’s will become a power on the Siberian side.
The next day I’m on vacation, but sneaking peaks as Byoof retreats and Ralph grows.
These maps are smaller because I saved them on my cell phone on my brief vacation. Ralph is back! What happened to Byoof?
By June 19 Byoof was starting to reestablish high pressure towards Canada. The Models suggested Ralph would fade and back off the Pole. The maps that follow show that Ralph had a strange persistence, and Byoof a strange weakness. It makes me think the models have a bias that is built in, because they have built in preconceptions based upon the elegant idea I began this post with. Mother Nature is showing us that the elegant idea may work with a zonal pattern, but she has other ideas up her sleeve.
If I have time I’ll offer my analysis of the maps below, covering June 19- July 9. But tomorrow is Monday and my money from “Big Oil” has never materialized. Therefore I have to work a real job and may not get around to goofing off in the manner that most delights me. So, let me whip off a synopsis of what seemed wonderful as I watched:
Byoof keeps trying to push Ralph off the Pole, but Ralph has a stubborn way of drawing north reinforcements, so that, even when the center of Ralph is off the Pole, a lobe or trough of low pressure protrudes towards the Pole, resisting the claims of Byoof.
What does this all mean? Your guess is as good as mine, and likely better than those who focus primarily on models. The models, one you look more than five days ahead, have missed Ralph being what Ralph continues to be.
Anyway, I share the maps so you can make up your own mind:
St this point we have arrived at the solstice, where the sun is at its highest at the Pole. The 24-hour sunshine is keeping the Mean Temperature above freezing, but Ralph’s clouds and perhaps some evaporative-cooling is keeping temperatures from getting above normal. A flow of milder air in through Bering Strait is starting to develop as Byoof and Ralph mesh.
An interesting, weak low is north of Bering Strait on June 21. In rgw nwxt few days it seems to be pulled into Ralph, swinging around the north coast of Canada, as if it was a chip in Ralph’s in-flowing whirlpool.
By June 24 a second pulse of “inflow” is drawn north through Bering Strait and from east Siberia. Also a third “inflow” is wobbling around in the Kara Sea, loop-de-looping but still generally trending to circle northeast towards the Pole.
Rather than fading, as models had suggested, Ralph strengthed, apparently fed by the Pacific-side inflow.
At this point my attention switched from Pacific to Atlantic inflows. Pulse #1 continued to wobble in the Kara Sea as Pulse #2 approached Norway from the North Atlantic.
By June 27 Pulse #1 has wobbled inland and then up into the Laptev Sea, as Pulse #2 crosses Finland into Russia. Ralph is finally starting to fade. At this point the models were suggesting Byoof would get pumped and extend high pressure right over the Pole.
By June 29 Ralph has faded and Byoof was pumped, but Pulse #1 in the East Siberian Sea, and Pulse #2 in the Kara Sea, were keeping Byoof at bay. I should also note that as Ralph faded there were some remarkably cold temperatures associated with his weakening. (You need to remember the “average” is above freezing, and the polar map can sometimes hold no below-freezing isotherms in July.)
The June 30 map shows Pulse 1 and 2 starting a Fujiwhara dance on the Asian side as Byoof is contained on the Pacific side, and the flow between the low and high pressure bringing mild air north through Bering Strait. Despite the mild inflow the temperature map shows more sub-freezing temperatures on the Greenland and West-Eurasian side than I can ever remember seeing at the height of the summer thaw.
The DMI temperature map showed a dip, and the next day it actually touched the blue line of freezing I looked back through the DMI maps and couldn’t find any other example of the polar mean temperature touching freezing so late (or so early.) Therefore I suppose it should be called “unprecedented.”
By July 1 Ralph seemed to have faded, and Byoof was attempting to build into the Atlantic, but a ghost of Ralph remained as a low oozed up through Baffin Bay and supported a trough over the Pole. In some ways that trough is the remnant of Pulse#1, still involved in a Fujiwhara dance with Pulse #2, which is down in Laptev Sea. A very weak Atlantic low off the coast of Norway surprised the models by creeping north and into the picture the following few days.
Despite all efforts of Byoof to extend into the Atlantic over the Pole, the ghost of Ralph remained as a trough on July 3, and new the little Norwegan low (Pulse #4) is eroding the high pressure in the North Atlantic.
I should mention at this point there was a surprising (not) lack of hoopla about how cold it had been over Greenland. A few years back a once-every-fifty-year event made headlines, as there was a brief thaw at the summit, but this year there was dead silence about once-every-fifty-year cold.
(If it was not for the Realclimate Site I would have known nothing about this event.)
I myself was more focused on the uncanny ability of Ralph to regenerate over the Pole. In the following few days both the weak Atlantic (Pulse #4) and weak Siberian (Pulse #3) lows nudged north and shook hands at the Pole, forming a new but definite “Ralph.” Meanwhile temperatures recovered to near normal.
By July 5 a new entity (Pulse #5) was appearing in the Laptev Sea, and started to do a Fujiwhara dance with the new, weak Ralph.
On July 7 an Atlantic entity (Pulse #6) is creeping into the dance from Barents Sea. Byoof is fading as Pulse #5 develops into a tight little gale.
As the Atlantic and Pacific pulses do their Fujiwhara dance high pressure finally starts to build, but not from the Canadian side, but rather the east Siberian side.
On July 10 we again saw Ralph smugly sitting on the Pole, defying the diagram we began this post with. Models were again saying Ralph would fade away and Byoof would at long last build over the Pole.
This morning the models are again changing their minds, and suggesting a new reinforcement of Ralph will move up from the Atlantic. (I suppose we should call it Pulse #7.)
The thaw is continuing, as it always does, but temperatures have yet to get above normal. I wonder if the persistent chill isn’t one factor that fuels Ralph.
Hopefully I can update further this evening.