Dramatic hot spells leave Antarctica, Arctic 40 and 30 degrees above normal

Earth’s poles are undergoing simultaneous freakish extreme heat with parts of Antarctica more than 40 degrees warmer than average and areas of the Arctic more than 30 degrees warmer than average.

Weather stations in Antarctica shattered records on Friday as the region neared autumn. The 3234 meter Concordia station was at -12.2 degrees,which is about 40 degrees warmer than average, while the even higher Vostok station hit -17.7 degrees, beating its all-time record by about 15 degrees, according to a tweet from extreme weather record tracker Maximiliano Herrera.

The warm conditions across Antarctica caught scientists by surprise.Credit:Preet Chandi

The coastal Terra Nova Base was far above freezing at 7 degrees.

It caught officials at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, by surprise because they were paying attention to the Arctic where it was 30 degrees warmer than average and areas around the North Pole were nearing or at the melting point, which is really unusual for mid-March, said centre ice scientist Walt Meier.

“They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the north and the south [poles] both melting at the same time,” Meier said on Friday. “It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.”

“It’s pretty stunning,” Meier added.

“Wow. I have never seen anything like this in the Antarctic,” said University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos, who returned recently from an expedition to the continent.

“Not a good sign when you see that sort of thing happen,” said University of Wisconsin meteorologist Matthew Lazzara.

Lazzara monitors temperatures at East Antarctica’s Dome C-ii and logged -10 degrees on Friday, where the normal is -43 degrees: “That’s a temperature that you should see in January, not March. January is summer there. That’s dramatic.”

Both Lazzara and Meier said what happened in Antarctica is probably just a random weather event and not a sign of climate change. But if it happens again or repeatedly then it might be something to worry about and part of global warming, they said.

The Antarctic warm spell was first reported by The Washington Post.

The Antarctic continent as a whole on Friday was about 4.8 degrees warmer than a baseline temperature between 1979 and 2000, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyser, based on US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration weather models. That 4.8-degree heating over an already warmed-up average is unusual. Think of it as if the entire United States, or Europe, was 4.8 degrees hotter than normal, Meier said.

At the same time, on Friday the Arctic as a whole was 3.3 degrees warmer than the 1979 to 2000 average.

By comparison, the world as a whole was only 0.6 degrees above the 1979 to 2000 average. Globally the 1979 to 2000 average is about .3 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

What makes the Antarctic warming really weird is that the southern continent – except for its vulnerable peninsula which is warming quickly and losing ice rapidly – has not been warming much, especially when compared to the rest of the globe, Meier said.

Antarctica did set a record for the lowest summer sea ice – records go back to 1979 – with it shrinking to 1.9 million square kilometres) in late February, the snow and ice data centre reported.

What likely happened was “a big atmospheric river” pumped in warm and moist air from the Pacific southward, Meier said.

And in the Arctic, which has been warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe and is considered vulnerable to climate change, warm Atlantic air was coming north off the coast of Greenland.


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