(This post was written in late October).
This will hopefully be a brief post, because I’m striving to avoid the Big Lie. What is the Big Lie? It is all the balderdash about Global Warming. Fraudulent Biden is off to Europe to blather about a crisis which doesn’t exist, and, because it doesn’t exist, it seems I might miss beauty which does exist, if I involve myself in arguments about political nonsense. So let me begin by skipping paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs.
Beauty that does exist is the Truth, and Truth is always beautiful and always addictively engrossing, (even if it tends to demolish a pet theory or ten of my own).
What has recently happened at the Pole involved a surprising increase in the “extent” of sea-ice. There was basically 20% more sea-ice this October than there was last year. By October 25 last year we had barely reached 6 million km2 of “extent”, while this year we soared up towards 9 million.
To people caught up in politics, this increase might sidetrack them into discussions about whether the sea-ice is shrinking or growing, but I tend to be more interested in what it means for my little farm, in an obscure nook of New Hampshire.
In terms of a warm winter, it doesn’t look good. Why? Because the “source regions” for our cold winters are places far away. Although they are far away, they (as source-regions) obey the same rules as close places do. And one rule is that it is more pleasant to live by water free of sea-ice than to live by an ice-bound coast. For example, southern Ireland is at the same latitude as southern Hudson Bay, but most people prefer the climate of Dublin to the climate of Churchill. They vote with their feet, and millions live by Dublin while the population of Churchill (in 2016) was 899.
As a farmer here in New Hampshire, I am not like the Irish of Dublin who can almost always depend on the Gulf Stream Waters of the Atlantic to keep their shores ice-free (unless it is 1817). Instead, here in New Hampshire, much of the Gulf Stream’s warmth is whisked away east to Ireland. Although we occasionally get midwinter warmth on southeast winds, we also look north and west to waters which might warm us, if they remain ice-free. The three bodies of water which, when they remain ice-free, spare us the onslaughts of the arctic, are the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and (oddly) the East Siberian Sea.
In terms of the Great Lakes, savagely cold winds can be headed right towards my farm, but are tamed by the passage over the lakes. As the cold winds pass over the summer-warmed waters, clouds billow up and villages by the lakes can have snowfalls measured in feet. But by the time that artic blast gets to New England, it at best holds a few flakes, and has been so warmed that we wonder why anyone ever called it an “arctic blast”. As long as those lakes remain ice-free, we are protected.
Besides the Great Lakes most focus on, (Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario) there are equally “great” lakes further north, (Winnipeg, Great Slave, Great Bear, and Athabasca.) Each year I watch as they first warm the arctic blasts with their water’s memory of summer warmth, and then lose that power as they freeze over. The northern lakes always freeze over, and the southern lakes seldom freeze entirely. However, during especially cold winters even the southern lakes may freeze (and even Niagara Falls may quit falling,) and on those winters our west winds become cruel. We cease being spared.
The same is true for Hudson Bay. As long as it is ice-free, the Pole can aim minus forty air straight towards us, but that air is so warmed by passing over Hudson Bay it is like we live in Ireland. Yet, nearly every year, the entire vastness of Hudson Bay flash-freezes over in late November and early December, and the moment Hudson Bay is ice-covered we know we are not living in Ireland. We then experience cold the Irish can’t imagine.
But the East Siberian Sea is so far away it seems ridiculous to suggest it can warm us. But I suspect it can. After all, the coldest air the northern hemisphere creates is created over Siberia, and, in order to get to my farm, it must first pass over the East Siberian Sea.
Last October those waters were open.
This year they were ice-covered.
Siberian cold which was moderated last year, by transiting ice-free waters, this year has not been moderated. The question then becomes, is that air headed my way? This is determined by whether the flow is “zonal” or “meridional”. A zonal flow tends to move straight along lines of latitude, and the coldest air stays north. A meridional flow involves the jet stream looping far north and then far south, bringing warmth north and arctic blasts south.
One of the coldest winters I recall was 1976-1977’s, and featured blast after blast of arctic air crossing north of Bering Strait and, even as much of southern and western Alaska experienced a mild winter, curving down through Yukon and down the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the eastern United States. On the maps it looked like a long series of “Alberta Clippers”, with each one delivering another packet of Siberian air. The cold set in early in November and lasted into February. In Maine I was able to walk sea-ice from South Freeport across Casco Bay to Harpswell, and Time Magazine featured a sensationalist cover warning of a coming Ice Age.
The coldest December I recall was 1989’s, which caught my attention because the local road crew was digging a trench with a backhoe near my house, and as the month passed the backhoe had to break through a thicker and thicker crust of frozen earth. At the start of the month the frozen earth was only a few inches thick, but by the end of the month they had to fight through a crust more than three feet thick as they completed the job. It wasn’t a well-done job, as the trench was refilled with big chunks of frozen earth, which held air spaces so that when the earth melted in the spring the road became uneven and a bit of a roller coaster. But one thing I recall about that winter was that the cold broke as if the sky was paying attention to the calendar, and after a December which had people bracing for a terrible winter, a change occurred, and, beginning promptly on January 1, the rest of the winter was surprisingly meek. The pattern changed, and the Siberian air went elsewhere.
This variability is one of the wonders of watching the weather. The better long-range forecasters have skulls holding the memories of thousands of maps, which they use as analogs that state, “if A, then B is likely to follow.” But they stress that word “likely”. They are very aware uncertainty is involved, and always have an eye out for the “unlikely”. The moment they notice the weather is not following the expected path their brains ruffle through thousands of other maps, seeking other times the weather deviated from the norm and took a different path. Often the best forecast is a correction, and the trick is to be ahead of the game and to be the first to recognize the earlier forecast was wrong. It does not pay, when dealing with the wonders of weather, to be too stubborn and set in your ways. (At this point I could be drawn off into arguments about whether the politics of Global Warming involves being stuck on a particular wrong forecast, but I don’t want to go there; I prefer the beauty of Truth, and the wonder.)
I like to watch good forecasters at work, drawing upon their experience to prepare their forecasts. Back when I was young, before computers were used by weathermen, I used to switch between three or four forecasters on TV channels four, five, seven and nine in Boston, because there could be considerable variety in the forecasts, and there was a lively competition between the meteorologists to “get it right.” (I was dismayed when I later moved to a part of the country where the weather was more boring, and the forecasters on TV tended to be voluptuous women who knew a lot about flirting but next to nothing about meteorology.)
Boston in the 1950’s and 1960’s was a great place to be, if you were a boy interested in the weather, for the public was concerned and deeply interested, and the market for meteorology provided money for innovations. The first Boston TV forecaster (before I was born) actually had a fifteen-minute show on the primitive TV sets of 1948. He was an MIT professor who smoked a pipe on air and scrawled on a blackboard, educating the public about things such as isobars, which many more ordinary newscasters knew zilch about. Forecasters who followed also would become very involved in educating the public, and at times annoyed the rest of the broadcast-team by pressing the limits of the time allotted to weather. I think some non-meteorologist reporters were downright jealous, for, in the same manner sports fans are very interested in obscure statistics of a sport they enjoy, and care more for the sports section of a newspaper than news others deem more important, the general public paid more attention to weathermen than to blathering politicians, or even sports reporters. But that made some sense. A baseball game doesn’t change the standard of living as much as a snowstorm does.
Perhaps due to the jealousy of other reporters, weathermen had to endure a lot on on-air jeering when their forecasts were wrong, but sometimes they’d see a big storm coming a week in advance, and it was wonderful watching their excitement grow, and their exhilaration when the storm actually happened as forecast. In particular I remember a forecaster named Bob Copeland who one winter got onto what a gambler might call a “hot streak” and went weeks predicting the weather with amazing accuracy, with his snowfall estimates correct to the inch, so that even the forecasters on other stations shook their heads. Though rivals, TV forecasters were also comrades, and met after work to compare notes. Misery loves company, and they all knew the misery of a botched forecast, a major storm that swerved out to sea and dumped a foot of snow on fishes, as all the inland forecasters got dumped on with laughing mockery.
The fact certain forecasters could experience “hot streaks” led me to wonder if something more than science was involved, for all the forecasters began with the same data, but arrived at different conclusions. Sadly, many modern forecasters seem to have lost some of that ability, (whatever it is), becoming overly dependent on computers, though computers can be equally wrong, especially in the long term. (At this point I could launch off into the foolishness of politics based on computer models, but again I won’t go there. It is far more fun to watch Truth unfold in real time than to squint at a future that very likely never will happen.)
I currently like the Weatherbell site because the forecasters seem more rooted in the ability of old-time forecasters, and explain what analogs they are using, and speak honestly in terms of likelihoods and probabilities, and never speak of science as being “settled.” This autumn they see a good probability of a cold December developing, using twelve years where a similar lead-ups all led to cold Decembers. What is interesting is that after sharing similar Decembers the paths of the twelve winters diverge, some relenting and becoming balmy, and others becoming winters of lasting cold.
Arctic sea-ice is but one component of many, when making such forecasts, but I like to focus on it, as it seems to have a definite influence on arctic air-masses, which later effect New Hampshire winters.
It has been interesting to watch how the recent low levels of sea-ice have led to the marginal seas around the edge of the Arctic Ocean becoming capable of holding greater warmth. As long as those seas have ice in their waters they are forced to remain the temperature of ice-water, but as soon as the ice is entirely melted those waters can warm with surprising speed under the twenty-four hour sunshine of summer. Then when, with equally surprising speed, the twenty-four-hour sunshine gives way to twenty-four-hour darkness, those marginal seas shift to giving back the summer warmth they absorbed. From September 21 to October 21 the 24-hour darkness expands from a dot at the Pole to a vast area extending a quarter of the way down the top of Greenland, and along that latitude clear around the Arctic Sea, but despite the absence of warming sunshine many areas remain above freezing, due to the “maritime influence” of summer-warmed seas. Meanwhile land far more swiftly loses heat and starts to generate cold. Where, in July, the land baked under 24 hour sunshine and was much warmer than the sea (tending to generate sea-breezes), by October the same land becomes colder than the sea (generating land-breezes.)
One aspect of the warming of the marginal seas involves how early they become ice-free. If they become ice-free early, in July or (if winds push ice offshore) even in June, the sun is relatively high in the arctic sky and can warm waters swiftly. But if the waters become ice-free in August the sun is lower and partially glances off the water. The heating swiftly diminishes as the sun sinks towards the horizon. In fact, if the seas become ice-free in September the sun is so low it nearly entirely bounces off the water, as the “albedo” of glassy sea-water is higher than that of dirty sea-ice when the sun is less than ten degrees above the horizon, and by September the open water of a marginal sea may actually be losing more heat than it gains.
In order to significantly alter the temperature of nearby landmasses, the marginal seas must become ice-free early, and soak up heat all summer. This may have been the situation during the Medieval Warm Period, and have led to marginal seas so warm they delayed the onset of winter, which enabled Vikings to farm places in Greenland we can’t farm any more.
But this past summer saw the marginal seas more clotted by ice than the year before, which leads one to wonder: “Why?” In many places the ice lingered well into August, and by the time it was gone it was too late for the sun to warm much. Consequently, the sea-ice was able to reform swiftly, as the above NRL maps show. But why did the sea-ice linger?
I’m not sure, but one factor was a shift in the movement of sea-ice. Ice which was more ordinarily flushed south through Fram Strait was retained. In fact, if Nansen had sailed the Fram last winter his ship would have drifted north right across the Pole, rather than taking its more southerly route closer to Eurasia.
Also in fact, if the Polarstern had sailed last winter rather than the winter before, the MOSAiC expedition would have crossed the Pole, rather than following Nansen’s path. The sea-ice took a less usual route, though not an unprecedented route, (for Russian sea-ice bases sometimes were pulled away from Russia towards Canada, in the past). This uncommon flow is a sort of cancellation of the Transpolar Drift and an expansion of the Beaufort Gyre, and keeps sea-ice up in the arctic.
Also there was a change in the inflow of warm water into the Arctic. This was especially noticeable in the case of the WSC (West Spitsbergen Current), which brings warm waters up along the west coast of Svalbard. It can keep the west coast ice-free even in the dead of winter. In June of 1597, when ice melt had barely begun, Willem Barrentz was able to sail a primitive non-icebreaker along part of the north coast of Svalbard, due to this current’s power to melt sea-ice. Yet last summer it lost power. Sea-ice came down to the north shore of Svalbard and even down the west coast during the warmest time of year. Why?
I wonder. Two explanations have crossed my mind. One is that the north Atlantic storm track shifted, and the mega-gales exploded much further east than normal. Usually they explode over Iceland, and roaring southerly gales on their east side assist the WSC as it heads north. Last winter the mega-gales exploded north of Norway in Barents Sea, and roaring northerly winds on the west side pushed against the WSC, and also churned and chilled the WSC’s warmer and saltier waters.
A second event, purely theoretical at this point, is that the very power that draws warm waters north may have been meddled with.
Warm water is drawn north to replace cold water that is sinking. The cold water sinks because it is cold, and also because it is partially brine exuded from sea-ice as sea-ice forms (brine is heavier than sea water.) This cold, salty water exits the Arctic through the one deep channel available, in Fram Strait, and must be replaced by warm currents, including the WPC, at the surface. But what happens if the water does not descend?
This may have happened last summer due to a major sea-bottom eruption of lava well to the northeast of Svalbard. I hypothesize this event occurred due to an odd hole that appeared in the sea-ice for no apparent reason, and which remained a feature for roughly ninety days. If the hole had a volcanic origin, it would suggest waters were rising where they ordinarily sink. This would get in the way of what draws the WSC north. Is it sheer coincidence that right at this point the WSC seemed to stop flowing, and stopped melting sea-ice west of Svalbard, and sea-ice extended further south than usual? (Since then, the WSC has resumed its usual flow.)
If the WSC was in any way slowed, less warm water would enter the arctic for ninety days, which likely would result in less melting of sea-ice. (Much melt comes from below. In fact refreezing begins as early as August at the top, but ice-extent continues to decrease well into September, due to melting from below).
The possible derangement of the WSC is perhaps “unlikely”, but it is one of the variables smart weathermen note, when attempting to state what is “likely”. We are dealing with a Creation that includes numerous variables, for our Creator did not want us bored. There are so many variables some call it chaos, but it all fits together perfectly and creates the harmony of Creation. To the person midst a major hurricane chaos seems complete, but a satellite view shows all the countless variables have created a symmetrical pinwheel with an eye, neat and tidy and far from chaotic, (unless you redefine chaos.)
In any case, I simply note, with wonder, an increase in the extent of sea-ice, and add a few feeble attempts to explain it. I also am splitting wood like crazy, which is hard (but fun) for an old fossil like myself, because I figure Fraudulent Biden will have energy prices soaring up through the roof, and I soon will not be able to afford heating my home with fossil fuels.
I hope for the best. I hope the flow is zonal and the bitter cold rotates around the planet north of latitude seventy. This will increase sea-ice but leave me alone. However I prepare for the worst. I prepare as if the flow will become latitudinal, and air from East Siberia will cross north of Bering Strait, unwarmed by the ice-covered East Siberian marginal sea, and unwarmed by the swiftly ice-covered northern Canadian great lakes, and the swiftly ice-covered Hudson Bay, and the (perhaps) surprisingly ice-choked southern Great Lakes, and we get blasted by a winter like 1976-1977, or by a December like 1989’s.
As an old timer, I tend to think people have become soft. They were not around back then, and call zero (minus seventeen Celsius) cold when it happens a day or two during a winter. They haven’t experienced a winter when zero becomes the norm, and the colder days drop to minus 27 (minus 33 Celsius.) It is then that fossil fuels will no longer seem so politically incorrect. My experience is that at minus 27 all one wants to do is crank up the heat. However, the heat may not be available, because Fraudulent Biden pretends to fear the planet is getting too warm.
I am lucky because I am primitive, and am saving my oak and black locust for the possibility of severe cold. I save the high BTU wood for when it is needed. Right now I’m burning the trashy wood, the old punky stuff and the birch, poplar, alder and cherry. Then I’ll move on to the maple. Hopefully I’ll never need use the oak and black locust, and will wind up looking like a silly old man spooked by worries that never came to pass.
However here again I accent the humble admission that my forecast may be wrong. This makes me radically different from Fraudulent Biden, who seems insanely certain his forecasts are correct. He sails a ship of state he is so certain is unsinkable that he will punish any and all who disagree, because authorities assure him his ship is unsinkable. But didn’t the authorities state the Titanic was unsinkable?
It is occurring to some who formerly were all-in and sold-on political correctness that they may have been mistaken. This tends to occur when Truth interferes with belief. You are rushing around with a forecast of doom, feeling like you are Paul Revere awaking the sleeping public to an invasion of Redcoats, and then become aware you are Chicken Little, rushing about screeching the sky is falling.
In terms of Arctic sea-ice, this has happened the past year. A year ago, at one point in October, the “extent” of sea-ice briefly rose more slowly than it did in 2012, and during that brief time 2020 had the lowest sea-ice “extent” ever for that date. (“Ever” being the recent past, barely sixty years, when relatively accurate records have been possible.) At that point it was understandable that an Alarmist could feel like Paul Revere. But now, they feel like Chicken Little. For, rather than melting away as forecast, the sea-ice has increased by 20%, and perhaps even more. Truth has spoken.
We all make mistakes. We all are incorrect. It is the human condition. And making mistakes can even be a good thing, if we confess we are mistaken. Mistakes teach us. Mistakes can improve us. But only if we confess they were mistakes. If we insist we are right when we are obviously not, our egos are tricking us into disaster.
Alarmists who were convinced the sea-ice was melting away are now not only confronted by the fact the sea-ice has increased by 20%, but by two responses to the event. On one hand they see people like me, who wonder, and ask questions, and share observations. And on the other hand they see people who insist sea-ice is decreasing even when it isn’t.
They then start to notice the same people insist polar bears are becoming extinct, when the population of polar bears has increased, (perhaps even doubled), over the past sixty years.
It even starts to occur to them that political correctness is incorrect. To such a person I can only say, “Welcome to my world.”
But, as I stated earlier, I don’t really want to go there. Maybe in some future post I will bore everyone to tears with philosophical ramblings about the difference between political correctness and Truth, but for now I find that a sort of distraction. It is better to face facts, and do what seems best.
At the moment arguing with intellectuals will not keep me warm this coming winter. However being a non-intellectual who splits firewood will keep me warm. They say firewood warms you twice, at first with exercise, and only later by burning. So I likely will not post much, until I am sure I can sit by a warm stove until spring. Then I will post your ears off.
P.S. I apologize for the delay in posting. I have been dealing with the slow decline of my laptop’s ability to function, due to all sorts of invasive stuff running in the background. Finally, I broke down and bought a new laptop. However, I don’t want to get the new one up and running without the help of a computer geek far smarter than I, who will install protection from invasive programs. Hopefully I soon will be posting more often.
My next sea-ice post will be about the “Dark Quarter”. If you divide the year into 4 quarters, 91.25 days long (not including leap years), the darkest days begin around November 5 and end around February 5. It is a time the sun offers least, when days are shortest and nights are longest, and a huge amount of heat is lost to outer space in the north. Without the sun, the only thing left to battle the cold is the heat retained in waters, and subtropical airmasses brought north by a meridional jet stream, (and sometimes rare heat brought about by the lava of volcanoes). Largely such sources cannot overcome the penetrating cold of the Dark Quarter. Sea-ice expands southward and thickens in the north. But that is stuff that happens every year, rather ho-hum, and it can’t explain the dramatic shifts in the amounts of sea-ice history reports.
What is perhaps more significant is the drift of the ice. Does it stay in the arctic or is it flushed south? Also significant are currents such as the WSC. Are they vigorous or feeble? (But CO2? It doesn’t really matter at all, but I will try to avoid that political quicksand, and merely marvel at the Truth).
Last year the East Siberian marginal sea froze over swiftly in early November, and the difference between last year’s “open water” and this year’s “ice-covered sea” vanished. The question then becomes, “Did the fact the East Siberian Sea become ice-covered earlier change things?”
Obviously it would. But I cannot identify the changes. I imagine it would allow more cold to develop, earlier, but where those airmasses went, I cannot say. They didn’t come down here. October in New Hampshire was balmy, though it was so wet the pastures squelched as you walked across them.
Plenty of room for wonder.