With less than two weeks remaining in 2016, we can say with near-certainty that it’s the hottest year on record (the only thing that could pull 12 months of above-average temperatures down now is if our sun suddenly vanished, and in that case we’ve got bigger problems). And if the north pole is any indicator, freak hot weather isn’t going away. In fact, it seems to be getting freakier.
Today—the day after the official start of the northern hemisphere’s winter—temperatures at our planet’s north pole are forecast to rise a staggering 40 to 50 degrees above normal for this time of year, approaching 32 degrees Fahrenheit, better known as the melting point of water.
Santa’s elves must be sweating their pants off up there.
According to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, the hot weather is being driven primarily by a powerful storm system east of Greenland, which features central pressures comparable to a category 3 hurricane. This storm appears to be colluding with weakened Arctic sea ice, allowing more warm air and moisture to push northward and spill over the north pole.
It’s just the latest indicator that something is seriously off in the Arctic this year. Earlier this month, NOAA released its annual “Arctic Report Card,” and while scientists didn’t say the Arctic failed 2016, they didn’t not say that, either. What they did say is that the Arctic has been having an astonishingly weird year, of shattered monthly temperature records and record-low sea ice cover.
In a stunning example of this year’s strangeness, last month, at a time when the Arctic is supposed to be rapidly gaining sea ice, ice growth actually went backward over a period of 5 days.
Ice cover and air temperatures are closely related, with less ice meaning more heat absorption by the ocean, which prevents air temperatures from dropping and makes it even harder for the arctic to put on additional ice. These sorts of ice-ocean-atmosphere feedbacks are at least part of the reason the Arctic is now having yet another scary hot flash.
If this scenario—of temperatures at the north pole rising above freezing around the holidays—sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The same thing happened at the end of 2015. There’s something fitting about 2016 going out as it came in, with the roof on fire.
Catch you all next year.