Across the Arctic, snow melted earlier and more completely this year than any in recorded history. In the same way ice loss exposes dark water to the sun’s radiant heat, melting snow causes exposed ground to heat up, adding to the Arctic’s already super-sized warming.
This extra heat retention appears to alter the polar jet stream, slowing it down and causing mid-latitude weather patterns to linger. It’s even possible that the ongoing North American drought, the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, was fueled in part by climate change in the Arctic, making it a preview of this new weather pattern’s ripple effects.
“In the past, whatever happened in the Arctic stayed in the Arctic. But now it seems to be reaching down from time to time in the mid-latitudes,” said climatologist James Overland of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. “When you combine the new influence of the Arctic with other effects, such as El Niño, we’re seeing the more extreme weather events.”
Over the last several weeks, public attention has been seized by the disappearance of ice in the Arctic Ocean, which in September covered a smaller area than at any other time in the climate record, a fitting exclamation point to its 50 percent decline since the late 1970s.
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