North Americans Are Either Too Cold or Too Warm Right Now

Icicles hang from a rock along a Nashville interstate. (Image: AP)
Icicles hang from a rock along a Nashville interstate. (Image: AP)

If you think the weather’s a bit weird right now, you’re not wrong. The northern and eastern portions of North America are caught in a deep freeze, and the eastern seaboard is preparing for something called a “bomb cyclone.” Meanwhile, Californians are reeling from an unusually long wildfire season, and Alaskans are skating in t-shirts. So what gives?

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Those of us living in North America don’t need to be reminded that the weather’s off the charts at the moment, but this temperature anomaly map from NASA’s Earth Observatory really puts the current meteorological situation into perspective.

Image: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen/MODIS/Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center
Image: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen/MODIS/Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center
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Data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows land surface temperatures from December 26, 2017 to January 2, 2018, compared to the same eight-day period from 2001–2010. The redder the area, the warmer the land surface temperatures, and the bluer the area, the colder. White areas are experiencing normal temperatures, and those grey splotches show where there’s insufficient data.

Importantly, this map conveys land surface temperature anomalies, and not air temperature; these two measures are slightly different.

Other parts of the world are also experiencing temperature anomalies. Europe, parts of Asia, and the Middle East are unusually warm right now, while portions of South America and Africa are cooler than usual.

Image: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen/MODIS/Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center
Image: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen/MODIS/Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center
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As to why we’re experiencing such extremes at the moment, NASA offers this explanation:

The map of North America underscores one of the realities of weather—when a cold snap hits one region, warmth often bakes another one. A giant meander (or Rossby wave) in the jet stream is the common thread that connects the warm weather west of the Rockies with the chill east of them. As the crest of a Rossby wave—a ridge—pushed unusually far toward Alaska in December, it dragged warm tropical air with it. In response, the other side of the wave—a trough—slid deep into the eastern United States, bringing pulses of dense, cold Arctic air south with it. The Rocky Mountains have boxed in much of the coldest, densest air, serving as a barrier between the cold and warm air masses.

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Hopefully things will settle back to normal shortly (not likely), but given the geopolitical anomalies currently gripping the world, the weather seems to be the least of our problems.

[NASA Earth Observatory]

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George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

cmallen
C.M. Allen

This is a direct effect of screwing with Earth’s natural heat transportation systems — heat is not conferred to other locations at the same rate and volume, causing temperatures in those areas to drop while causing temperatures to climb in the areas where the heat cannot escape as quickly. This is a natural phenomenon and is actually a critical component of how seasons work. But those seasonal weather patterns are also affected by the way the those heat transportation systems function, and too much heat causes the major ones to slow down or stall out entirely (which, in turn, causes a cascade of other problems).

Global Warming is real. Climate Change is real. They’re not some grand conspiracy of scientists or whatever. What we are seeing is EXACTLY what those scientists and their models were predicting decades ago — global weather patterns destabilizing, with extreme weather becoming more frequent and more potent.