Thanks to the same low-pressure system that produced blizzards in New Mexico, tornadoes in Texas and flooding in Missouri, the North Pole was about 40 degrees above the seasonal average high on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post’s weather team.
The Post’s Capital Weather Gang examined buoy data from near the North Pole and reported a record high temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
It wasn’t close to the 40 degrees Fahrenheit forecast in some estimates, but it was substantially warmer than the usual late-December highs of -10 degrees F.
Above-freezing December temperatures at the North Pole have occurred only three times since 1948, Weather Underground blogger Bob Henson tweeted Monday.
CNN Senior Meteorologist Brandon Miller pointed out that two strong weather systems — the low-pressure mass that’s moved through the United States and northern Europe, and a high-pressure system over Siberia — have helped pull warm air from southern Europe and northern Africa.
“Because of the strength of the two systems, it’s allowing that air to travel farther north than it normally would,” he said.
Air is traveling clockwise around the high-pressure system and counterclockwise around the low, so the two systems next to each other are pulling air from the same direction like a vacuum, he said.
Neither system is uncommon this time of year, incidentally, but their power — and the result of the combination — is unusual, he added.
Nevertheless, the North Pole high is strictly a temporary phenomenon, with temperatures returning to normal very soon, Miller said. What’s important to monitor is whether the warming becomes part of a pattern that reduces sea ice in the Arctic, something scientists are watching closely.
“Some climate models predict an ice-free Arctic at least part of the year in the coming decades,” Miller said. “If you’re going to have an ice-free Arctic and you’re going to have big melts in the summertime but also limit ice recovery in the winter, you’re going to have to have events like this happen.”
He continued, “If you have a lot of these events, especially with strong winds that can push that sea ice around and cause some vulnerabilities, if this is a pattern of things to come, it could really become worrisome for the stability of the Arctic.”
Incidentally, if you want to travel to the relative warmth of the North Pole, you may want to bring a lamp. Right now, it’s dark 24 hours a day.