Arctic Sea-Ice —Icelandic Superstorms–

It has been a good winter for storms way out in the North Atlantic, where old fellows like me prefer they stay. The most recent bomb occurred just south of Iceland, and achieved the third lowest pressure of any Northern Hemisphere non-hurricane in recorded history. True, our ability to record pressures away from the shore only goes back to around 1979 (Boats with barometers have better things to do than to aim for the center of such monsters.)

The low pressure of this storm bottomed out at around 27.14 inches of mercury, (919mb), which is lower than most typhoons and hurricanes. In fact it is a pressure lower than any recorded North Pacific non-tropical storm.

iceland supersdtorm 2 Screenshot_2020-02-16 Ryan Maue on Twitter Final analyzed pressure of powerful North Atlantic #StormDennis was 919 mb from [...]

I find it amazing that North Atlantic super-storms outdo North Pacific super-storms, considering Pacific typhoons tend to outdo Atlantic Hurricanes, but in either case such storms are gigantic.

iceland superstorm EQ6-m7bWoAA-xYC

I’m surprised the storm drew so little media attention, considering….well, I won’t go there. But for people like me the lengthy fetch from the northwest into the Atlantic seemed bound to interfere with the Gulf Stream’s delivery of warm water northeast towards Europe. Besides cooling the surface water it will bodily shift large amounts of surface water southwest.

Nor is this storm an isolated event. It was preceded a few days earlier by another giant, which was matched by a similar giant in the North Pacific, making a spectacular satellite picture.

Icelandic monster with Aluetian monster 1_v1

The Pacific storm bottomed out at  28.12 inches (953 mb) while the Atlantic storm reached 27.56 inches (940 mb). The above picture is from February 13. The next day the Atlantic storm moved up to Iceland and they were blasted by St. Valentine’s Day winds over 100 mph. I imagine much snuggling was involved in Iceland, as the winds shrieked outside.

Such storms tend to gobble available energy in a single gulp, and some fade with remarkable speed, handing their energy off to offspring along their energetic cold fronts, or (more rarely) kicking energy ahead along their warm fronts. Others fade more gradually, slowly filling in as they wobble off east, or more rarely west, and occasionally due north to the Pole to become a “Ralph”. (Anomalous Area of Low Pressure.) In the above examples both Icelandic gales involved, one way or another,  powerful low pressure in Barents Sea, which has seen a stormy winter.  Some vestiges of the first bomb’s Barents Sea prelude made it up towards the Pole, in very weak form barely serving the title “Ralph”, but the deep low pressure on the Atlantic Side has pumped high pressure on the Pacific side, which tends to keep the Aleutian Gales down over the Aleutians, where they belong, even as the Icelandic Gales are in Barents Sea, where they don’t belong.

To watch animation of the above events, in terms of winds and in terms of huge wave heights, scan down through a good article (which has further links), found here:

Day after tomorrow? No, but we are facing two impressive extra-tropical cyclones right now – one over the North Pacific and another over the North Atlantic

In terms of sea-ice, the Atlantic storms have brought strong south winds to Barents Sea towards the boundary with the Kara Sea formed by Novaya Zemlya, pushing the edge of the sea-ice far to the north. (January 30 to right; February 16 to right)

Were it not for increases in Baffin Bay and Bering Sea, this retreat would cause quite a down-tick in the extent graph; as it is the graph has flattened.

DMI 200218 osisaf_nh_iceextent_daily_5years_en

The fact the “extent” has retreated north in Barents sea should not be misconstrued as meaning sea-ice has melted. Some indeed may have, through being churned by thirty to fifty foot waves slightly above the melting point of sea ice, (roughly 29ºF, or -1.7ºC), but some may have formed in the sub-freezing gales as well. For the most part the edge has moved north because the ice itself has moved, and has piled up against thicker ice to the north. This perhaps explains why the “volume” graph shows no similar flattening:

Volume 200217 Screenshot_2020-02-18 DMI Modelled ice thickness

The “volume” graph is modeled, and contains some interesting devises which I think might be called “educated-guess-work”. It will be interesting to watch as the sun returns and throws some light on the subject. Even though we are near the peak of sea-ice “extent”, which tends to start downward in March, “volume” goes on merrily increasing well into April and sometimes into May. Where “extent” is greatly influenced by the edge of the sea-ice, far to the south, “volume” pertains more to the bulk in the Central Arctic, and has more to do with hinting at what the minimum will be like, next September.

Up to this point the superstorms in the North Atlantic, combined with high pressure towards Bering Strait, have (to varying degrees) kept winds blowing from Siberia to Canada. For the most part this has drained the massive area of homegrown cold from Central Siberia, though northern Scandinavia and westernmost Siberia have seen moderated north Atlantic air sucked east along the bottoms of the superstorms. On a whole, this has resulted in temperatures a few degrees colder than recent years over the Central Arctic. On a whole this should make ice thicker, though the offshore winds along the coast of Eurasia has constantly pushed sea-ice offshore, creating polynyas on the coasts of the Kara and Laptev seas. Indeed the Northeast Passage may see ice melt early this year, while across the Pole the Northwest Passage has seen sea-ice piled up by north winds, and thickened by extremely low temperatures, and the Northwest Passage may require icebreakers to be passable this coming summer.

Another consequence of the Atlantic superstorms, and also of the positioning of the high pressure towards Bering Strait, has a been a considerable cooling of both the northern Pacific and the northern Atlantic. On his site Joseph D’Aleo produced a map which shows where seawater anomalies (not actual temperatures, but whether those temperatures are above or below normal) have warmed (red) or cooled (blue). Remember, these are anomalies; a change from very-much-above-normal to slightly-above-normal will appear blue even though temperatures are still above-normal. (Also, over sea-ice, water temperatures cannot be read so you are actually seeing the change in temperature of the top of air-influenced sea-ice.) What is striking is the cooling which has occurred between Canada and Europe, and also the major cooling of the so-called “warm blob” south of Alaska. Because the “warm blob” is crucial to the location of the jet stream, the fact it has been so abruptly weakened has caused many long-term forecasters to suffer bad hair days, if not go bald. The map below covers the period between December 14 and February 14.

In terms of the actual anomalies, we seem to be seeing the backwards “C” of cold water indicative of a “cold” PDO, forming in the Pacific, and even a “cold” AMO being hinted-at in the Atlantic (though you have to stretch imagination a bit, in the Atlantic.)

SST Anomaly 200217

One thing forecasters use is records-from-the-past, but the last switch from “warm” to “cold” AMO was sixty years ago, and the satellite-records are either very poor or non-existent. Therefore I don’t blame forecasters for scrambling a bit. We haven’t seen this before. But what amuses me is those forecasters who try to look like they aren’t scrambling, and saw this coming. They didn’t.

Nor did I, but I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all. I try to just observe, (though I do compare the present with the past when I can.) And I wonder.

It seems that these superstorms must deeply churn the waters, and alter the stratification of the waters entering the Arctic Sea. Some waves have been ninty feet tall, winds have been over 100 mph, and pressures down to 27.14 inches (919 mb) suck cold waters up from the depths. Considering contrasts in water temperatures to some degree fuel and direct such currents, a significant change in temperatures may even alter the direction such currents flow. And if we replace a warm current under the summer sea-ice with a cold current,  we may find ourselves wondering, “Why isn’t the sea-ice melting?” We shall see what we shall see. Stay tuned.

I tend to roam about like a lurking wolf, skimming over current ideas regarding the current situation, and it is wonderful how the theories flourish and utterly contradict each other. I have read, on the same afternoon, that the arctic has a puny effect because it has so little heat compared to the tropics, and that the arctic has a huge effect and has shifted the El Nino from east to west, from a traditional El Nino to El Nino Madoki.

I prefer to think the Arctic has an effect, (due to my obvious focus-on and bias-towards sea-ice). Here is a link to a couple know-it-alls at the UCSD Scripps center, who suggests  a Global-Warming-caused decrease in sea-ice is causing the westward shift in warmth to a El Nino Madoki in the Pacific:

I note they state “further study is needed”. I think Scripps is hopeful to get some of the ten billion which virtue-signaling Jeff Bezos is getting a charitable deduction for, for donating to the cause of “Climate Change”.  Personally I would like to remind Jeff that a few years back Scripps predicted a massive La Nina which never occurred, and also that we could use a few fifty cameras drifting about on buoys in the Arctic Sea.

(It seems to me that, as the “cold” PDO starts to form the backwards “C” of cold water in the Pacific, the extension of the southern arm of that “C” would tend to push warm water west, and turn El Ninos to El Nino Madokis, but perhaps that idea is too simple and requires too little research money.)

I’m expecting to see things we haven’t seen before simply because we didn’t have much in the way of eye-in-the-sky satellites, the last time the AMO flipped from “warm” to “cold”. However I predict that when others see what they have never seen before they will state it is “unprecedented”, and a sign of End Times, and that if I fill my gas tank I will be told, “How Dare You!”


And I will meekly whimper that I’m not the one misbehaving. It is the weather that is misbehaving.

One final bit of misbehavior was enacted by the most recent and largest Icelandic Superstorm. It waited until people had stated the cold was “locked up” at the Pole, due to the breakdown of “stratospheric warming” at the end of last year, which created a strongly positive AO.

Strat donut 2 hgt_ao_cdas__2_(13)

Ryan Maue tweeted a wonderful picture of this highly stable stratospheric doughnut, convincing me of its stability and the inability of cold air to escape its wrapping embrace.

But what does the danged superstorm then do? Instead of fading away and sliding along the north coast of Eurasia, it drove right on up to the Pole and became a “Ralph”, giving our first truly sizable spike in Polar temperatures of the winter.

DMI meanT_2020 200219

I note this spike is small, compared to the steadily higher temperatures of 2016 (lower left) or the amazing spikes of 2018 (lower right):


However the appearance of Ralph is a bit unnerving to me, for when “Ralph” bumps up and becomes king-of-the-mountain he tends to bump cold air south, and it looks like it is being bumped to the Canadian side. In other words, as soon as I assume the cold air is “locked up”, it escapes.

Don’t ask me what happens next. I’ve learned my lesson. Instead I’ll just sit back and be a quiet observer.

Here are some DMI maps I saved which show the pelude-to, the comings, and the goings of the two recent superstorms:

I’ll begin back on January 31. We’d been seeing a pattern with High Pressure wobbling from side to side of Bering Strait, marking the center of a tilted “Polar Cell” as, in a quasi-Zonal-manner, low pressure drifted around the edges, displaced to lower latitudes in the Pacific and climbing to higher latitudes in the Atlantic. However towards the end of January I thought I might be seeing the end of that pattern, as the high pressure, (which I will dub “Bear” for Bering Strait) was fading and eroding away, as a “Ralph” appeared at the Pole. I’ll call this particular Ralph “Trub” as it was troublesome. In fact I should call it “Trub 3”. It was one of a string of “Ralphs” which made mincemeat of my theory that Ralphs are formed by warm feeder-bands of milder air surging to the Pole and rising. In the case of Trub there was little mild air and in fact the center of Trub was very cold, and in my book had no business rising at all. Also it formed first and the feeder-band came second, drawn north by Trub’s circulation.

This new pattern resulted in an elongated feeder-band nearly from the Atlantic to the Pacific, feeding Trub, with the feeder-band seeming to start to form a more traditional “Ralph” near Svalbard. However Bear was showing signs of reforming over Siberia. The two maps below illustrate how swiftly the feeder bands cool over a twelve hour period.

By January 7 Bear had reasserted itself over Bering Strait, and low pressure been repressed back to the Atlantic side. I thought a new Ralph might be trying come north through Baffin Bay, but we’d seen this earlier and it seemed the old pattern was reasserting itself. In the end the Baffin bay low couldn’t out-push Bear, and instead hopped over Greenland taking the old North Atlantic route

Three days later this low was crashing into Norway. (I accidentally deleted the isotherm map, so I stuck an igloo in its place).


A day later and the gale is north of Norway, bashing Barents Sea, as many gales have this winter. It is a sub-28.00 inches gale (sub 950 mb) and a superstortm in its own right. Its circulation steered the next gale south of the range of these maps into England.


The next map shows, four days later, the first superstorm lashing Iceland with 100 mph winds. Notice that the storm that was over Barents Sea drifted up to the Pole with a feeder-band, but is much weaker.

Two days later the second superstorm crashes into Iceland, as the first swiftly weakens into a mere appendage. Barents Sea is relatively tranquil.

Now here is where it gets interesting, for the second superstorm doesn’t swiftly fade. but continues up across Barents Sea.

And then, fading but still strong, into Kara Sea

And then it hooks north towards the Pole as a true “Ralph”.

And now we see yet another sub-28.00 inches gale just south of Iceland.

There’s a lot to digest, even as I keep observing.

Stay tuned.