News Section
Stories from Climate Central's Science Journalists and Content Partners

Arctic Blast Has Half the Lower 48 States In Its Icy Grip

A harsh blast of Arctic air, accompanied by snow, sleet, and freezing rain in many areas, has solidified its grip on more than half of the lower 48 states, with winter weather watches and warnings in effect for about two dozen states, from the California coastline to Minnesota. The cold air outbreak is one of the most severe to occur in early December in several years, possibly since the late 1990s.

Heavy snow falling near Boot Hill, Colo. on Dec. 4.
Credit: Paula Brown via Dann Cianca/Twitter.

So far, more than 2 feet of snow has fallen in Minnesota, with 1-2 feet falling in the mountains of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner said the snow totals in northern Minnesota could be “epic,” with more than 3 feet expected.

In California’s Central Valley, a vital agricultural region for the U.S., farmers were taking steps to protect crops from multiple nights with low temperatures in the low to mid-20s.

Wind-chill advisories and warnings were in effect in many areas that are used to cold weather, including northern Montana. “The . . . Arctic intrusion has brought temperatures to dangerously low values, particularly across the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains,” the National Weather Service said in an online discussion.

Wind-chill values, which include the combination of air temperature and wind speed and the associated effects on the human body, are expected to dip as low as minus-40°F in those areas, the NWS said. While those temperatures are considered to be dangerously cold, they are not unprecedented for this time of year in the northern Plains.

As of Wednesday morning, an Arctic cold front separating the bone-chilling cold from milder-than-average temperatures was draped from the Desert Southeast to the Lower Great Lakes, and several waves of low pressure were moving along it, producing snow from the Colorado Rockies to northern Minnesota.

The Arctic front brought a sudden change from spring-like temperatures to winter conditions when it passed through Denver on Tuesday. Before the front moved through, the temperature stood at a balmy 56°F on Tuesday at about midday. Just 5 hours later, temperatures cooled to 19°F. Many parts of Colorado may not exceed 15°F for nearly a full week.

Computer model projection showing geopotential heights at about 18,000 feet, which is a proxy for temperature. This shows a large pool of colder-than-average conditions over the West, with above-average conditions over Alaska. The latter is associated with an area of high pressure.
Credit: WeatherBELL Analytics.

A new storm system has started to form and it will move along this Arctic front, spreading freezing rain, sleet, and heavy snow from the lower Mississippi River Valley to the Upper Midwest. Dangerous accumulations of freezing rain are possible starting on Thursday in portions of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Illinois, according to the NWS.

Eventually, the wintry mess is forecast to extend along the Appalachians as the colder-than-average air slides eastward and mixed precipitation heads into interior portions of New England. The precipitation will be aided by an unusually strong jet stream aloft, with upper-level winds at about 30,000 feet exceeding 200 mph.

The weather pattern producing the cold air outbreak features a contorted jet stream that resembles a giant snake on a weather map, with a huge ridge of high pressure shunting the jet stream to the north of Alaska (bringing milder-than-average conditions there), only to come surging southward above the West and carving out a deep trough across the Central states.

Persistent areas of high pressure like the one over Alaska, as well as long-lasting unusual jet stream patterns, have caught the attention of some scientists who think such features may be becoming more common as the Arctic warms and sea ice declines. It’s an area of active research, with little consensus yet emerging from the meteorological community.

The cold snap means that 2013 will likely become the first year in 20 years in which record daily lows exceed record daily highs in the U.S. In a trend that is likely related in part to manmade global warming, there has been an increasing imbalance between record highs and lows during the past several decades, with record highs far outnumbering record lows.

This year is a rare exception to that trend, but it does not indicate a slowdown or reversal of U.S. or global long-term warming trends, since short-term climate variability ensures that there will still be cold snaps and heat waves even in a warming world.

According to statistics from the National Climatic Data Center, the U.S. had 9,035 daily record high temperatures through Dec. 3, compared to 9,951 daily record lows. Last year at this time, that ratio stood at about 5-to-1 in favor of record daily highs, with 32,881 record daily highs through Dec. 3, 2012, compared to just 6,238 record daily lows during that same period. Last year was the warmest on record in the U.S.

Globally, 2013 is expected to be the 7th-warmest year on record, which follows the warmest decade since records began in 1850.

Related Content
NOAA: 2012 Warmest and 2nd-Most Extreme Year on Record
For First Time in 20 Years, Cold Records May Beat Warm
Snow Cover May Help Usher in Historic Cold to Northwest
Explaining Explosion of Daily Record Highs As Easy As Pie
NOAA: 2012 Hottest and 2nd-Most Extreme Year on Record
Four Major Heat Records Fall in Stunning NOAA Report
Book It: The Hottest Year on Record
2012 Heat Wave is Historic, If Not Unprecedented


By Bruce (Chicago Il 60606)
on December 5th, 2013

“Persistent areas of high pressure like the one over Alaska, as well as long-lasting unusual jet stream patterns, have caught the attention of some scientists who think such features may be becoming more common as the Arctic warms and sea ice declines. It’s an area of active research, with little consensus yet emerging from the meteorological community.”

I remember a similar dire prediction after Katrina - “From now on, due to global warming, there will be more storms, more named storms, more hurricanes, more damaging landfalls of hurricanes…” What happened? None of these predictions materialized. Turns out it was just more spin.

Reply to this comment

By MaryAlice (Morton Grove, IL 60053)
on December 5th, 2013

The current weather patterns in Northern Minnesota remind me of teaching there in the mid-50’s when we got our first heavy/wind-blown snow in the amounts above 12 inches.  That snow was still on the ground on Memorial Day when we tried to picnic at Itasca Park.  Times have changed, but today “seems like old times!”

Reply to this comment

By Leon (Wewahitchka,Florida 32465)
on December 5th, 2013

Expect the unexpected. We just had a F-1 ppass through here.

Reply to this comment

By ron
on December 5th, 2013

lots of warm water still out there. not unusual for smaller bodies, but big stretches of ocean is unusual.

Reply to this comment

By Dr Norman Page (Houston Tx 77024)
on December 5th, 2013

This arctic surge is typical of the type of weather pattern forecast to be more frequent as the global cooling trend which has been in place since 2003 deepens. For a forecast of the timing and amount of the coming cooling and links to the supporting data see
For a discussion of the weather patterns on a cooling world see
There has been no net warming for 16 years with CO2up 8%. The cooling trend since 2003 will continue for another 20 years and perhaps for hundreds of years beyond that I encourage readers and Andrew to check the data for themselves via the links provided .How many more years of no warming and indeed cooling will it take before Climate Central reconsiders its position?

Reply to this comment

By rickers (ohio)
on December 5th, 2013

looks like another winter wrapping up to look like that of 1976 & 1977.  Get ready folks

Reply to this comment

By leo rush (pelham, nh)
on December 5th, 2013

fronts cause the jet streams not the other way around.

Reply to this comment

By Thomas Law (Huntsville,Ar. 72740)
on December 5th, 2013

How do you define a storm, and when does anyone predicate when it conflicts with daily life? We have encountered an unusual weather pattern ever since about 60 years after the industrial revolution…look it up. The change may be minor, but it exists. It is becoming more dramatic. All we can do regardless is endure.

Reply to this comment

By Kevin
on December 5th, 2013

Dr. Norman Page,

How many times will people like you repeat the lie that there has been no warming over the past few years?  And what kind of “doctor” are you - a dentist???


Reply to this comment

By Len Holliday (Belton, S.C. 29627)
on December 5th, 2013

Look, the air mass we are dealing with this early in December is historic! We are going to have an Ice Storm of Biblical Proportion’s tonight and Friday! November come in with way below normal temperatures east of the Mississippi! I put out my Winter Of 2013-2014 forecast months ago telling everyone it was going to be the coldest winter in 100 years for most of the U.S. and I still believe it will be the coldest in 100 years with way above normal snowfall will many Ice Storms and here we are! And you ain’t seen nothing yet! Jan., Feb., and most of March will prove to be bitter cold with violent snow storms that will make the blizzard of 1978 look like a Sunday Afternoon breeze with a light snow band over head! GET READY! IT IS UPON US! Len Holliday(Lead Forecaster a Firsthand Weather owned company)!

Reply to this comment

By Paul W (95132)
on December 5th, 2013

It’s colder than usual here in San Francisco, but nothing too harsh otherwise, not a cloud or a speck of wind anywhere.  I’m just glad this snap saved itself for AFTER the holiday weekend, which was summery and short-sleeved, making it up to nearly 80 degrees!  I don’t suppose we can hope for another like that for Christmas…

Reply to this comment

By Andrew Regis (Pomona, New York)
on December 5th, 2013

I find it interesting how all of the recent climatic occurrances are blamed on “Man-made” global warming. I am a 82 year old professional geologist and born and raised in Iowa and have lived from California to New England and now in New York. Every weather pattern that has happed in the last few years I can remember happening during my life time. If you study the cooling and warming trends of this earth over the past million years or so, warming and cooling has been a common event—long before man had anything to do with. Are we entering a warming trend?? Perhaps. Is man responsible for this-I doubt it. Mother Earth is a very powerful item and I seriously doubt that we can alter the climate to the extent that the “doomsayers” claim that we can.

Reply to this comment

By Dr Norman Page (Houston Tx 77024)
on December 5th, 2013

Kevin I’m a Geologist Just check the links I provided to see the cooling trend. or e.g see the NOAA data at
With all the basic data available on the web these days only the hard core warmists or Obama think it useful to lie
about climate these days.

Reply to this comment

By Georgia McDaniel (Knoxville, TN 37920)
on December 5th, 2013

I have lived for 80 years and seen constant fluctuations in our weather.  I have lived in IN, CA, MO, IA, IL, and TN.  I question the wisdom of anyone who makes blatant statements concerning global warming.  I believe only time will tell whether there is such a thing.  I think people with wisdom refrain from getting on a band wagon and claiming fact where no one knows.

Reply to this comment

By James E. (Salem, OR 97301)
on December 5th, 2013

Climate warming?  And we have this kind of weather!  The Artic ice accumulations in the past two years have been nothing short of phenomenal. We are going through a freeze cycle, not a warming cycle. Oregon average highs during the month of December range in the mid 40’s, oftentimes reaching 50 degrees which is why Oregon’s winter crops are such a bounty for the state during the winter months. Right now, we are averaging 10 degrees below the norms of past years. It is cold, very cold for this state. Walking out nearby my home, the grass is green and has frost on it every morning, crunch… I walk my dog. Typically we don’t get this cold till February. Someone has their heads on backwards in writing this story.

Reply to this comment

By Wsglbg (isanti,mn 55040)
on December 5th, 2013

  Humans have actually less to do with the climate then the volcano’s that have put out more then the whole industrial revolution has in my opinion. If you want to really look at the whole picture take a look at the other planets in our solar system. The changes they are going through have to be affecting us too. Remember people, we are in this thing together. Quit blaming people and get to work on the changes you can affect.

Reply to this comment

By fern (davenport iowa 52806)
on December 5th, 2013

  wow ,all i know is i don,t want all ,or most of the white stuff not to come down into IOWA   thank you !!

Reply to this comment

By Kris (KC. MO. 64155)
on December 6th, 2013

I can remember when I was about 12 living in Ohio, we had a storm that dumped over 3 feet of snow and the city shut down.  I lived in a suburb of Clevland.  In about 1992 in KC. Mo, we had an ice storm that dumped about 2 inches of ice everywhere!  In 1981 in MO. we had a cold snap that lasted about 2 weeks where the high for the day was 10 below zero.  It snowed every day and the freeways were ice and accidents happed at the rate of 1 per every 5 minutes.  The summer of 1980 was the hottest is a long time.  The low for the day was around 100 degrees and it was 110 to 115 degrees during the day.  This lasted about 2 weeks also.  The fact that the summer was so hot and then the winter was so cold made me wonder if one had affected the other.  My opinion is that these are the earths changes and they happened all before like a cycle.  I think it depends all on the sun.  But I think if anyone really looked, they would find a pattern of this repitition.

Reply to this comment

By martha smith (atlanta, georgia)
on December 6th, 2013

thank you Andrew Regis—ve

Reply to this comment

By jeff daniels (san francisco, ca)
on December 7th, 2013

An overwhelming, global majority of scientists think that the earth is in a warming trend that has its primary origin in human activities.  Excerpt from the above link:

1   Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as evidenced by increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, the widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.[5]
2   Most of the global warming since the mid-20th century is very likely due to human activities.[6]
3   “Benefits and costs of climate change for [human] society will vary widely by location and scale.[7] Some of the effects in temperate and polar regions will be positive and others elsewhere will be negative.[7] Overall, net effects are more likely to be strongly negative with larger or more rapid warming.”[7]
4   “[...] the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time”[8]
5   “The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g. flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification) and other global change drivers (e.g. land-use change, pollution, fragmentation of natural systems, over-exploitation of resources)”[9]

The Milankovic astrogeophysical components that are the primary drivers of terrestrial weather patterns over long periods of time (23Kyr, 41Kyr, 100Kyr) were first put forward in the 1914 timeframe - nearly 100 years ago.  These periods have been categorically confirmed using ice cores, paleogeological strata, and other means.  As noted above, volcanic activity has and will cause small-scale fluctuations.  Add to that solar insolation variability and cosmic ray bombardment [which sounds nuts but the CR flux does affect the albedo of the atmosphere] and there are many factors that have to be considered in weather modeling.  And they hadve been accounted for in various scientic studies published in peer-reviewed magazines.  See the references in the link above.

Taking all of this into account, the scientific community has concluded that we humans are the cause of the excess heat-energy in the atmosphere.  This is simply common-sense from conservative, scrupulous, and highly educated men and women.  We have been pumping gigatons of carbon dioxide and terawatts of heat from carbon-based fuels into the atmosphere for decades.  It has to go somewhere and that somewhere is here - on spaceship earth.

Who doesn’t have their weather stories?  The weather is locally variable and at base a chaotic phenomenon.  That is why predicting local weather is virtually impossible.  NOAA/NWS is doing a great job and getting better all the time.  We need to wake up on the global scale.  We humans are on a tiny planet, revolving around an ordinary star, in a galaxy among hundreds of billions.  It would be unspeakably stupid to destroy our home planet for the sake of the energy and automobile conglomerates and human vanity.  Time to take responsibility and act with integrity and foresight for those who have gone before and those who will follow.

Reply to this comment

By Steven Blaisdell
on December 8th, 2013

I want to strongly recommend that Climate Central allow a “reply” to individual comments; there are far too many uninformed, misinformed, and mendacious comments here that deserve educated, informed answers. When there are still folks insisting there is a “global cooling trend,” and confusing weather with climate, we have a problem that needs to be answered directly, in conversational format.

Seriously, there needs to be an informed, interactive discussion in the comments section. Otherwise, Climate Central should probably turn the comments off.

Reply to this comment

By ggrant
on December 13th, 2013

Thanks for your suggestion, Steven. It was a great one, and hopefully you have noted we added this functionality.

If you have any other suggestions on the best way to give everyone a voice, but limit the mendacious comments, I’m all ears. I realize how frustrating those comments can be to keep an informed discussion ongoing. It is truly a conundrum for us.


Geoff Grant
Managing Editor

Reply to this comment

Name (required):
Email (required):
Enter the word "climate" in the box below:

[+] View our comment guidelines.

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until reviewed by Climate Central staff. Thank you for your patience.