After living in North Carolina for nearly a quarter of a century, I had forgotten what a winters worth of snow accumulation looks like. Feet and feet worth of the white stuff is what I found in Fairbanks Alaska when I arrived for my PolarTREC orientation. Talking with locals, I discovered that this has been a pretty typical year, both temperature and snowfall wise, in Fairbanks.
Typical snow accumulations in Fairbanks Alaska
Wait, What, haven’t we all heard the arctic is warming? Just because one location is experiencing normal temperatures, or for even that matter, below normal temperatures does not indicate climate change is not still occurring. Our extreme cold weather, that allowed me and others to ice climb areas in North Carolina that have not frozen in recent memories, is actually do to a warming in a region thousands of miles away from the parts of the lower 48 where it was irregularly cold this winter.
A rare 2 week cold snap caused the usually free flowing Catawba Falls to freeze.
Why then did we have such a cold snap in North Carolina? Today, one of our guest lecturers was Dr. Jeremey May from Florida International University. Part of his presentation included a diagram of an undulating winter Jetstream over the United States. What is commonly referred to as the dropping of the polar vortex in the Lower 48 is actually a result of a weakening high-pressure system do to an overall warming throughout the entire Arctic. This high pressure system usually smooth’s out the Polar Jetstream that normally locks in extremely cold temperatures at higher latitudes, but when it weakens the troughs of that undulating Polar Jetstream can bring Continental Arctic air to North Carolina and other areas south of the Polar regions.