Nav: Home

Extreme cold winters fueled by jet stream and climate change

October 26, 2016

  • Scientists agree for first time that climate change may be intensifying the effects of the jet stream, causing extreme cold weather in the UK and US
  • Study could improve long-term forecasting of winter weather in most populous parts of the world
  • More accurate forecasting could help communities, businesses and economies prepare for severe weather and make life and cost-saving decisions
Scientists have agreed for the first time that recent severe cold winter weather in the UK and US may have been influenced by climate change in the Arctic, according to a new study.

The research, carried out by an international team of scientists including the University of Sheffield, has found that warming in the Arctic may be intensifying the effects of the jet stream's position, which in the winter can cause extreme cold weather, such as the winter of 2014/15 which saw record snowfall levels in New York.

Scientists previously had two schools of thought. One group believe that natural variability in the jet stream's position has caused the recent severe cold winter weather seen in places such as the Eastern United States and the UK. The other camp includes scientists who are finding possible connections between the warming of the Arctic - such as melting sea ice, warming air temperatures, and rising sea surface temperatures - and the emerging pattern of severe cold winter weather.

Now, Professor Edward Hanna and Dr Richard Hall from the University's Department of Geography, together with Professor. James E. Overland from the US Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have brought together a diverse group of researchers from both sides of the debate.

The researchers have found that the recent pattern of cold winters is primarily caused by natural changes to the jet stream's position; however, the warming of the Arctic appears to be exerting an influence on cold spells, but the location of these can vary from year to year.

Previous studies have shown that when the jet stream is wavy there are more episodes of severe cold weather plunging south from the Arctic into the mid-latitudes, which persist for weeks at a time. But when the jet stream is flowing strongly from west to east and not very wavy, we tend to see more normal winter weather in countries within the mid-latitudes.

"We've always had years with wavy and not so wavy jet stream winds, but in the last one to two decades the warming Arctic could well have been amplifying the effects of the wavy patterns," Professor Hanna said. He added: "This may have contributed to some recent extreme cold winter spells along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in eastern Asia, and at times over the UK (e.g. 2009/10 and 2010/11).

"Improving our ability to predict how climate change is affecting the jet stream will help to improve our long-term prediction of winter weather in some of the most highly populated regions of the world.

"This would be hugely beneficial for communities, businesses, and entire economies in the northern hemisphere. The public could better prepare for severe winter weather and have access to extra crucial information that could help make live-saving and cost-saving decisions."

The study, Nonlinear response of mid-latitude weather to the changing Arctic, is published today (26 October 2016) in the journal Nature Climate Change on 26 October 2016. The research was partly sponsored by the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and the Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) project of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

It further cements the University's position at the forefront of climate change research and gives geography students at Sheffield access to the latest innovations in environmental science.
-end-


University of Sheffield

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".