Sometimes it seems important to sit back and stop the business of trying to figure everything out. Just watch. But then, of course, watching leads to wonder. And, as soon as you start wondering, you start trying to figure things out. But one needs to hold fast to a sort of humbleness, and to be aware you are witnessing the work of the Creator. Do you honestly think you can figure Him out?
The answer is “No”, (in case you are young and think you have enough time to connect all the loose ends.)
A beautiful bit of ancient poetry is the Book of Job, and one of the twists of the plot is when Job gets switched around from demanding answers from God to having God demand answers from him. In terms of this post, it would be as if the Creator abruptly spoke, in a deep, booming voice, and his first question was, “Where were you when I created the North Pole?”
Not that we shouldn’t wonder. However there is an attribute of wonder that is simple admiration. I don’t think we get in trouble for admiring the work of the Creator. And, just as knowing how difficult it is to play the piano increases your admiration of pianists who can handle what you can’t, knowing even a little about how the atmosphere works increases your admiration of the Creator’s workings you witness.
One thing that dazzles me is the appearance and disappearance of arctic high pressure. In the most simplest sense, cold air is heavier than warm air, so it sinks, and presses down on the surface. That creates high pressure. If it should become less cold it becomes less heavy, and the high pressure associated with that cold air grows less and less the more that air becomes warmer and warmer. But that is too simple, because the high pressure refuses to stay in the same place. First, the Coriolis Effect causes the high pressure to spin clockwise (in the Northern Hemisphere) and second, because the cold air is heavier than the warmer air to the south, it tends to press south beneath the warmer and lighter air.
In essence this amounts to a suicidal impulse on the part of high pressure systems. They move towards the very warming that will cause their air to stop pressing down and even begin to rise. Also, because they have a clockwise spin, they tend to draw milder air in from milder source regions. Usually the west side draws mild air up from the south as the high sinks south, but in certain situations the milder air can be drawn in from other directions. In many cases the high will completely destroy itself with amazing speed.
One thing I enjoy watching is a high pressure come down from Canada over the USA and then swing towards the east coast. The system is warming and weakening all the while. At first the west side vanishes, as the south winds feed moist warm air north and breed rising air and a trough of low pressure. The east side, getting milder and more moist as it moves across southern lands, then reaches a tipping point, where it can become two quite opposite things.
If the high pressure slides off the coast intact, then suddenly it is over cooler water, and is mild and moist air that is now cooling and sinking, in which case it’s pressure stops decreasing and starts increasing, and it contributes to an extension of the Azores High called the “Bermuda High”. In this case the building of high pressure to the southwest can give New Hampshire dry, mild weather. However if that same high pressure is just a bit slower, it gets so warm and moist that I call it a “sog”. In a twinkling it can turn from a ridge of high pressure into a trough of low pressure. Sinking becomes rising (like a yo-yo). Then, rather than fueling and intensifying the “Bermuda High”, the system becomes an alley for a ferocious storm. I confess that as I watch such high pressure systems start down from Canada (most especially in late October and early November) I have no idea which side of the “tipping point” they will take. You couldn’t ask for more opposite forecasts, however. It is the difference between a balmy spell of “Indian Summer” or a howling “Nor’easter”. And at times it seems to involve nearly identical high pressure systems. The only difference is that one is off the coast twelve hours earlier, and the other lags twelve hours behind.
I confess that more learnéd meteorologists are better able to tell whether the Bermuda High will strengthen, or a Nor’easter will roar up the coast, through their study of the upper atmosphere. However I am a down to earth fellow, and such wisdom is above my head. Also I have noticed, (most recently just last week), that computer models are pretty bad about seeing the bottom 500 feet of the atmosphere. They correctly predicted temperatures would rise well above freezing, but it only happened 500 feet above our heads. We don’t live up there, and down where we lived the temperatures were well below freezing, and cars were skidding and crashing all over the place, and the learnéd meteorologists looked foolish, while I got to be smug, for I’m just a down to earth fellow who has lived long enough to know cold comes creeping south under even the most impressive southerly flows.
Not that I can forecast as well as learnéd meteorologists. If you compared our forecasts learnèd meteorologists would come out well ahead. However none of us are true masters. Great mystery still surrounds the art of the Creator.
For the most part I watch and wonder. And it has been fun to watch the wobbling of high pressure up at the Pole, for the past fortnight.
When I last posted high pressure was right on top of the Pole, which tends to keep the cold air swirling in a clockwise flow up there, rather than the cold being hurled south upon poor, old mortals like myself. The position of this high, in contrast with a low over towards Bering Strait, arranged isobars into a cross-polar-flow that bled cold air north from Canada in a transfusion to Siberia, which was becoming amazingly cold. However a lot of my attention was grabbed by an amazing gale which had roared between Greenland and Iceland, where no one lives, and therefore got no headlines.
A lot of the energy involved with this gale slammed into Greenland, and my focus was on a spike in the amount of snow Greenland got. However another part of my curiosity knows “what goes up must come down”. A huge gale like that is launching all sorts of air upwards, and when that air comes down it tends to create high pressure (unless it comes down as a Chinook, in which case its warmth may generate a low, which is another “tipping point”, and a discussion for some other time.)
I remember back around 2006 watching the late forecaster Ken Reeves point out various places a “digging” tough might “pump a ridge”, and how each place a ridge might be “pumped” would “teleconnect with” (IE “result in”) a different place a new “trough would dig.” The sheer number of variables he was holding in his head as he scowled at the map sat me backwards in awe, and I conceded I simply didn’t have the time to focus to that degree. I would simply be patient, when a low pressure exploded into a Gale and shot massive amounts of air upwards. I would sit back and look around and wonder where it was going to come down, and when it would come down.
Most recently it seemed to come down over Siberia, as the huge gale by Iceland faded between January 16 and January 19.
During these four days the slow bleeding of air from Canada persisted, until Alaska began to supply some milder air from the north Pacific. But by this point the cold over Siberia was making headlines.
However at this point the Canada-to-Siberia supply broke down, partly because the Pacific air crossing Alaska rose over the arctic and created a weak Ralph-like low to the Pacific side of the Pole. Although a Canada-to-Siberia flow persisted on the side of that low towards the Pole, on the Pacific side a sort of backwash began to develop, with cold air heading back from Siberia to Alaska.
At this point the amazing cold over Siberia had created an amazing high pressure system, with pressures up around 1070 mb. Bone chilling temperatures poured into China down the
west east side, and the south side cycled cold all the way west to Turkey, but the east west and north side were the “mild side”, and though temperatures were below freezing they were well above-normal as they poured up towards the Pole. Meanwhile the sneaky backwash continued to cross into Alaska from the most eastern parts of Siberia.
Of course Alarmists do not focus on the mind-boggling cold pressing down into Asia, but rather in the air rushing up to the Pole to replace the cold heading south. And it did create an impressive spike in temperatures.
Though this spike is nearly as high as last winter’s two spikes, it has failed to generate a “Ralph” at the Pole, nor to shove sea-ice north with the same gales over Barents Sea. And what troubled me, with my selfish focus on my backyard in New Hampshire, was that even though the main body of the high pressure sank down into Asia, new high pressure was getting pumped over towards Bering Strait. As a result Alaska and Canada, rather than being drained of arctic air by cross-polar-flow, looked like they were being replenished and reloaded. I far prefer to see the arctic aiming at China than aiming at me.
The North Atlantic had been quiet, but finally a new gale approached Iceland on January 22, and it did not behave like last year’s, which moved straight north to become “Ralph” at the Pole. In the following maps you’ll notice the Atlantic low follows a far more usual route, across the top of Norway and into the Kara Sea. Meanwhile high pressure wobbles over to the Pacific side. The contrast between high pressure towards Bering Strait and low pressure towards the Atlantic creates the worst sort of layout of isobars, if you want cold air to stay out of Canada.
My fear is that the blob of high pressure over Canada will move south in the same manner the blob of high pressure over Siberia moved south. Rather than reading of records set in Russia, we’ll read of records for cold set where I live. Who needs that?
Of course, one odd thing about focusing on sea-ice is that data about how severe winter may be to the south doesn’t matter. Yes, this is a bit narrow minded, especially when it involves ignoring the sea-ice we actually have in New England. Our sea-ice has actually decreased, during the recent thaw caused by all the cold air draining down to China on the far side of the Pole, but we still have some. And our ice reflects sunshine just the same as ice in the Arctic Sea does. But somehow our sea-ice is never included in the “albedo” calculations, even though we do have sunshine in January, when most of the arctic gets zilch. Be that as it may be, our focus is suppose to be on the arctic and the arctic alone.
Not that the people who care about sea-ice “extent” focus on the arctic, and the arctic alone.
There is less ice, outside the arctic, in the places they bother measure. (Not all bother measure the Baltic Sea. Not all bother measure the Yellow Sea. None measure the east coast of the USA.) In fact it looks like there is significantly less sea-ice, according to the DMI chart, which oddly ceased reporting back on January 23.
When I try to compare current NRL maps with last year’s maps, I am annoyed to find no record of maps for this date last year. The best I can find is a “forecast” for this date, run on January 13, 2017. But we use what we can get. (2017 to left; 2018 to right.)
The “forecast”map for this date last year likely fails to account for the unexpected “Ralph”-fueling surges we saw roaring north in the Atlantic last January, but even using the “forecast map” it looks like, in the Central Arctic, the ice is thicker this year, both at the Pole and also towards the boundary between the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea. Also, the area where ice was formerly below-normal in Bering Strait has seen a swift growth of thin ice, which makes me wonder why the DMI map is not updated to show this swift regrowth (associated with the bleeding of cold air in a sort of backwash that has replenished and reloaded Canada with cold.)
Most of the “missing” ice in the DMI “extent” graph may actually be located in the Sea of Okhotsk, down the east coast of Siberia towards Japan. Not exactly “arctic sea-ice”. And if you are going to count that “missing” ice, from such a southern locale, you should surely include the sea-ice in the Gulf of Maine, which is above-normal despite our thaw.
The ice out in the fringes likely matters less than the sea-ice in the Central Arctic. The ice in the fringes is melted by July. The ice in the Central Arctic is far more stubborn, and there is simply no getting around the fact it is thicker this January than last year. It is moving in the wrong direction, for Alarmists to achieve their dream of an “ice-free Pole.”