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Great Arctic Cyclone in Summer ‘Unprecedented’: Study

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It’s known as the Great Arctic Cyclone, and when it roared out of Siberia last August, storm watchers knew it was unusual. Hurricane-like storms are very common in the Arctic, but the most powerful of them (which are still far less powerful than tropical hurricanes) tend to come in winter. It wasn’t clear at the time, however, whether the August storm was truly unprecedented.

Now it is. A study published in Geophysical Research Letters looks at no fewer than 19,625 Arctic storms and concludes that in terms of size, duration and several other of what the authors call “key cyclone properties,” the Great Cyclone was the most extreme summer storm, and the 13th most powerful storm -- summer or winter -- since modern satellite observations began in 1979.

An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated.
Click to enlarge image. Credit: NASA

Although it came during a season when Arctic sea ice was plunging toward its lowest levels on record, the authors couldn’t establish that the unusually large areas of open ocean contributed to the storm’s intensity.

On the flip side, they do argue that the storm contributed significantly to the breakup of the ice, and ultimately, to the record-low minimum extent of sea ice covering the Arctic.

There’s at least circumstantial evidence to support this assertion: the rate of ice loss across the Arctic Ocean in August was unusually rapid, and it’s plausible to think that the churning action of the Great Cyclone helped fragment the already thin ice, letting it melt or disperse more easily.

But in the storm’s immediate aftermath, some experts argued that the ice would have vanished in any case.

“The place with the biggest loss was the East Siberian Sea, where the ice was already poised to go,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo., told Climate Central in August when Arctic sea ice was on pace for a record low. And in an email sent the day after Christmas, Serreze reiterated his doubts. “I’m still skeptical that it had a big effect. I think there will be a paper or two on this coming out fairly soon and I would be surprised if they conclude otherwise.”

As for the storm itself, it’s reasonable to wonder if climate change more broadly, if not the loss of sea ice in particular, was a factor in its surprising intensity. On that score, the evidence may be more than circumstantial. Arctic experts say the region has entered a “new normal” in terms of snow and ice cover, and perhaps of weather patterns as well.

Those weather patterns may already be having ripple effects further south in the form of colder, snowier winters in the U.S. and Europe, at least some of the time. And in a 2004 paper, scientists concluded that Arctic cyclones increased in both number and intensity during the second half of the 20th century; another study, published in 2009, projected an increase in the number and intensity of summer cyclones by the 2100.

For Arctic storms, as for so many other climate-related events, including droughts, heat waves and killer storm surges, the term “unprecedented” is likely to be getting quite a workout over coming decades. 

Related Content
Ongoing Coverage of the Earth’s Polar Regions
Sandy Tops List of 2012 Extreme Weather & Climate Events
Arctic Storms: A Climate Danger Nobody's Talking About
Arctic Sea Ice On Pace for a Record Low in September 
It’s Official: Arctic Sea Ice Shatters Record Low 
Global Warming Has Pushed Arctic into ‘New Normal’ 
Arctic Paradox: Warmer Arctic May Mean Cold Blasts for Some

Comments

By Don
on December 28th, 2012

It’s “Unprecedented!”

Quick! Tax something!

Reply to this comment

By Cody Seth crawford (Newberg Oregon 97115)
on December 28th, 2012

As we get more co2 in the atmosphere we will see more of these cyclones , and bigger and more powerfull as well.
This is just the tip of the so called iceberg in terms of “freak storms” that are going to wreck havok on our little blue ball.    The siberian tundra and north american permafrost are thawing at an alarming rate wich is realeasing gigatonnes of methane and co2 into the atmosphere, methane is 78 X more efficient at warming the planet than co2 on a 12 year scale , it is 25 on a 100 year scale.  I can forsee these summer cyclones becoming problematic on accelerating the release of methane by bringing in distant weather patterns tat will increase the thaw.  This is alarming, the entire system of jet streams and oceanic currents will definately be affected, the jet stream has already slowed since observations started by sattelite in the 70’s….we are in for a double sucker punch on this one!

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By janvones
on December 28th, 2012

The thirteenth biggest storm in 30 years of observation?  That’s a common mistake of teenagers, thinking the world began a few years before they were born.  Real science takes into account sample size and doesn’t treat statistical blips as the worst x of all time. Maybe the authors didn’t choose the headline here, but shame on whoever did.

Reply to this comment

By Chuck Hughes (Mountain View)
on December 29th, 2012

No matter which climate science site I visit I can always count on several ignorant posts from people who really do not understand climate science, yet feel compelled to make inane, fact free comments without citing any sources for their “information”. These uninformed morons do not understand the difference between opinion and fact.  Notice that the article points to peer reviewed and published information while “janvones” points to absolutely NOTHING. Maybe Janvones gets his/her scientific information from teenagers.

Reply to this comment

By Gary H (Los Angeles, CA 90066)
on December 30th, 2012

Breaking news - from 1947

ARCTIC CLIMATE’S ALARMING CHANGE LOS ANGELES. May 30, 1947

A mysterious warming of the climate is slowly manifesting itself in the Arctic, and in the Antarctic ice regions and the major Greenland ice cap should reduce at the same rate as the present melting, oceanic surfaces would rise to catastrophic proportions, and people living in lowlands along the shores would be inundated, said Dr. Hans Ahlmann, noted Swedish geophy- sicist to-day, at tbe University of Cali- fornia’s Geophysical Institute.

Dr. Ahlmann added that tempera- tures in the Arctic have increased by 10 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. An ‘enormous’ rise from the scientific standpoint. Waters in the Spitsbergen area, in the same period, have risen from three to five degrees in temperature, and one to one and a half millimetres yearly in level.

‘The Arctic change is so serious that I hope an international agency can speedily be formed to study conditions on a global basis.’ said Dr. Ahlmann. He pointed out that in 1910 the navigable season along the western Spitsbergen lasted three months. Now it lasts eight months.

End article.

Then, it all froze over again - right up to the mid-1970’s.

The, the warming cycle started all over again, up to the present time.

Time for the re-freeze to commence.

Reply to this comment

By Leslie Graham (Auckland)
on December 31st, 2012

Thank you ‘janvones’.
Vacuous, sneering opinions allied with self-evident scientific illiteracy form the twin pillars of climate change denialism and you have illustrated this fact with such eloquence that any educated casual reader couldn’t fail to be impressed.

Please post more totaly unsubstantiated assertions along these lines.

Reply to this comment

By Leslie Graham (3500)
on December 31st, 2012

“...The thirteenth biggest storm in 30 years of observation?...”

Yep - and the biggest summer storm in at least 30 years - possibly thousands of years. Who knows?
As I presume you are attempting to imply, no-one knows with absolute certainty beyond 30 years.

But we do know - thanks to the diligent and painstaking work of these qualified and experienced climate scientists - that it is the thirteenth biggest storm out of 19,625 Arctic storms in the last 30 years.

19,625 Arctic storms.

And this one was bigger than 19,612 of them

Maybe 19,625 Arctic storms in 30 years is ALL of them? Who knows. You certainly don’t.

“...Real science takes into account sample size…”

Which in this case could quite possibly be every major storm that has ever occurred in the entire Arctic in the last thirty years.

And yet you have the absolute gall to post your jaw-droppingly ignorant remark; “...Real science takes into account sample size…”

Unbelievable.

The twin pillars of climate change denial are arrogance and ignorance.
Thank you ‘janvones’ for so eloquently providing any casual visitor with a near perfect illustration of same.

Meanwhile - “if you aren’t part of the solution you’re part of the problem.” So do us all a big favour - just get out of the way. This is serious grown up stuff.

Reply to this comment

By Leslie Graham (3500)
on December 31st, 2012

“Quick! Tax something!”

Nope - just make it a legal requirement that the carbon industry pays to dump their crap the same as every other business on the planet has to.
Like you and me have to.
Seems pretty damn fair to me.

You know - it’s usualy called a ‘carbon tax’ or ‘carbon trading’ and over 40 countries all over the planet are already doing it and have been for years.
So far the world hasn’t come to an end.

Now use the dumping fees to give a tax handout to the middle class. Yep - if you would just shut the **** up and listen for a moment you might find out that the average Joe gets a tax REBATE not a charge.
Damn those commies and their tax rebates.

Then - as the price rises and the fossil fuel corporations start to contribute to the ‘tax’ take instead of receiving massive subsidies and rebates as they do now - you can invest the excess in the new industrial revolution that is gathering pace all over the world. (except parts of the US is would seem).

Just try to be a litttle skeptical for once in your life.

Reply to this comment

By Mike Mangan (Comstock Park, Mi 49321)
on January 1st, 2013

Arctic cyclone happens just as North America is experiencing record low tornado activity not to mention no Cat3+ hurricane landfalls since 2005. Storms have to happen somewhere. Thanks, Global Warming!!

Reply to this comment

By fthoma (palm bay, fl, 32907)
on January 1st, 2013

http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2012/08/arctic-storm-part-3-detachment.html gives a good overview of this storm.
More at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12/27/record-arctic-storm-melted-sea-ice/ . One interesting comment is: “Interestingly, powerful Arctic storms are more prevalent when jet stream meridionality increases because flows of warm air can more readily and more persistently approach the poles.

Such meridionality is a feature of a cooling world rather than a warming world and seems to be linked to low levels of solar activity.”

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By DSL350
on January 3rd, 2013

Gary H, note that early 20th century warming is well accounted for by insolation.  A warmup of about .45C occurred during that period, and polar amplification sent much of the warming to the Arctic.  The trend in insolation is the primary driver for the period (plot the data yourself).  After about 1960, insolation and surface temp parted ways.  Insolation has been flat or falling since, with the most recent 11-year cycle trough being the deepest on the instrumental record.

You can harp about cycles all you want, but until you find a physical mechanism that equates early 20th century warming with late 20th warming, you’re just flapping your lips.  There are at least a dozen attribution studies that show that early 20th century warming and late 20th century warming do not share the same mechanism (e.g. Pasini et al. 2012, Lean & Rind 2008, Gillett et al. 2012, Huber & Knutti 2011, etc.).

The mechanism at work with the current trend will not cycle down, as solar variation does.  At best, an extremely deep solar minimum may counter GH-based warming over the next century.  Possible, but not likely, and it still wouldn’t provide evidence for your claim.

You may want to have a look at Kaufmann et al. (2009) on Arctic temperatures.

Reply to this comment

By DSL350
on January 3rd, 2013

Mike - or anyone with access to the publication - do you know if the IKE method (integrated kinetic energy) was applied to GAC12?

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