What is causing weather patterns in the northern hemisphere go topsy-turvy?

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The North Pole is warmer than parts of Europe right now. Does that sound right?

The Arctic is experiencing one of its warmest winters in recorded history. Air temperatures at the North Pole rose above freezing for several days i.e. above zero 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Such high temperatures are rare in the winter.

Snow in Rome for the first time after 26 years!

Even weirder,  Europe, which is just below the Arctic, is experiencing unusually freezing weather! Much of Europe has been blanketed in snow as cold weather spreads south. The cold front or  ‘Beast from the East’ is bringing rare snowfall to parts of Spain and Italy and to the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Capri.

What’s causing weather patterns to go topsy-turvy?

Meteorologists are pointing to the weakening of the “polar vortex” for this unusual combination of weather extremes.

 

What is this Polar Vortex?

Photo Credit: NOAA

The Polar Vortex is a large pocket of freezing cold air that lies high above the polar regions. The polar vortex acts as a barrier to isolate cold arctic air from warmer air in the south. However, when the polar vortex weakens, the cold arctic air pushes southward and masses of warm equatorial air pushed northward.

This image shows blue arctic air flowing down south, and red tropical air making its way up north.


The question is, what exactly is causing this Polar Vortex to weaken? One theory suggests that it might be the result of global warming. Higher temperatures are causing less ice in the ocean. Ocean water absorbs the sun’s rays and gets heated. In turn, the heat is released into the air, causing strange weather.

It is hard to prove that climate change is the culprit, but it is certain that changes in the Arctic will affect our weather patterns.

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