More Arctic Sea Ice – Less Northern Blocking This Winter?

I’m seeing a few interesting comments surfacing on Facebook about the increase in arctic and northern hemisphere sea ice extent compared to recent years which they claim may lead to little or no blocking and a mild winter for Europe and I guess they mean North America too.

This prompted me to have a look at this year’s current sea ice extent compared to recent years and sure enough, it’s higher. However what they dismiss right away is that the minimum is a good month to month and a half away first of all, secondly they fail to look much past arctic sea ice. They fail to see how WARM the waters are yet again over the arctic and particularly over the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Does a slightly higher arctic or northern hemisphere sea ice extent which remains well below normal overall mean much? In my opinion, not really because the arctic sea ice doesn’t need to be more extensive to allow strong northern blocking. It’s far more complicated than that. It’s not ALL about a lack of sea ice which drives high latitude blocking but solar activity and sea surface temperatures in both the Pacific and Atlantic at much further south latitudes and yes there are other drivers towards high latitude blocking.


Think of it this way. With more sea ice, you would think cold would build faster and stronger than a lack of like we’ve seen in recent years. Also, the arctic sea ice extent remains well BELOW AVERAGE and let’s not forget how warm waters in the North Pacific and Atlantic are, in part thanks to a hot summer across northern North America, Europe and Asia. This warm water will keep the decline in arctic sea ice going and that means it will drop to levels such as 2009.

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Thinking that because we have ‘slightly more extensive arctic sea ice’ will STOP blocking from occurring is ignorant and a ‘quick thought’, not based on any sense of looking at the broader picture I’m afraid.

Like I say, the arctic remains well below normal and let’s remember that July was THIRD warmest in the UK and it’s been abnormally warm across Canada and up across Alaska, not forgetting the warmth across northern parts of Asia.. All this heat across the far reaches of the Mid and high latitudes have really warmed up waters and it’s THIS and not so much the extent of arctic sea ice which will help generate northern blocking this winter. Another thing to remember is we saw near record northern blocking just this past March when winter was near over and there was an arctic covered by ice.

Winter’s down through the years have been worse than even 2009-10 yet sea ice was MORE EXTENSIVE.

Here’s the current Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice extent compared to past years all the way back to 1979.


2009 is a good example. This was a record year for northern blocking yet 2007 and 2012 had LOWER arctic sea ice extent but less blocking.

Check out water temperatures as of August 8, 2013 compared to around the same time back in 2009 and you tell me the difference..

8 Aug, 2013


10 Aug, 2009

VERY LITTLE! Point is arctic water temperatures remain abnormally warm compared to normal and this is just ONE influence of northern blocking and a far stronger contributor than how extensive the arctic ice extends I’m afraid.

As for the solar cycle which plays a substantial role in blocking, it appears we saw a peak in the current cycle, cycle 24, around 2011-12 which was the warm winter for North America as well as western Europe but of course it was anything but mild over central Europe right across much of Asia. Point is, the current cycle which was far lower than the previous cycle and we are on a downward trend as you can see below. Note the last minimum occurred right around 2009-10 when we saw a blockbuster winter in the US, Europe and East Asia.


Another factor to consider regarding the upcoming winter is the fact that the Pacific (PDO) is less cold and the Atlantic (AMO) is less warm compared to last year. This too must all be taken into account.

There is no guarantee that we’ll get major blocking nor a cold winter in 2013-14 but what I will say is that there are several indicators showing that this winter could be another cold one. How extreme or intense very much remains to be seen and there is a lot more study on my part before a final draft of my winter forecast is produced and released at the end of October.

Can I be clear that I am not going for the extreme here but am swaying more and more towards a cold and at times snowy winter. I shall be ironing out the details for Europe and the United States through September and October and there is of course the autumn season to go and we will need to watch what kind of pattern unfolds. Like in spring. The front running season, prior to summer and winter plays a very important role, not forgetting the ENSO which is hovering very much on neutral at the moment but could go either way as we head towards winter.

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