Caught in the crosshairs by the cool blob

Kate Ravilious on how the UK’s storms can be tracked to El Niño, a wavy jet stream and a cold Atlantic patch linked to melting Greenland ice

It’s not been the ending to Christmas most would have wished for. As northern England recovers from the devastating effects of Storm Eva (perhaps mopping sodden houses for the second or third time in a month) the weather seems the only topic of conversation.

But it is not just the UK experiencing remarkable weather. From unseasonably warm temperatures across Europe and the eastern US, to highly unusual tornadoes ripping across the central US, wildfires and fierce summer heat in Australia and extreme flooding in South America, the world’s weather is very much out of kilter. Many are pointing the finger at the strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, but that weather system can’t explain it all.

42-29764861<br>A polar bear navigates pack ice in the Svalbard archipelago.
A polar bear navigates pack ice in the Svalbard archipelago.
Photograph: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Here in the UK our unusual weather may be more directly linked to the “north Atlantic cool blob” – an abnormally cold patch that started to develop in 2013 and is thought to have been caused by melting of the Greenland ice sheet. This, along with warmer air temperatures in the Arctic, has altered the jet stream, making it more “wavy” in autumn and winter, and more prone to getting stuck in one position. This time the north of England was in the crosshairs, with storm after storm being fired along the same jet stream track.

Unfortunately this is something we will have to get used to. “Ocean temperature anomalies tend to persist for months to years, so it would not surprise me to see the UK dealing with generally stormy conditions for a few years,” says Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, in the US.


Kate Ravilious

The GuardianTramp

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