What happened to spring?


April 6, 2016, Cathedral Drive Farm

What happened to spring?

It was here in little Hope Ness a few weeks ago. I was all set to disconnect the snow-blower from Mr. Massey Too, take the winter tires off the van, and the storm windows off the house, and maybe even get some peas and potatoes planted. It’s the second week of April, after all; I’ve done it before by now.

But winter came back. The ground is covered with snow again, the overnight temperature went down to -13 (Celsius) a few nights ago. It’s supposed to go down to -10 tonight, and the forecast for the next few days isn’t that much better.

I declared if officially spring, right here in this blog days before the vernal equinox in these parts because it was so warm for so many days and the snow cover was almost completely melted away. But this, now, is more like the middle of winter than the beginning of spring. Today the sun is shining; that’s about the only consolation. And spring has to come, doesn’t it, surely? (I know, your name’s not surely.)

What happened?

That’s what happened: The image here, taken off Environment Canada’s weather page, tells the story: The high-altitude “Jet Stream” plunged south more than a week ago, bringing sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures over most of Ontario, and unseasonable cold to the Eastern U.S. as far south as, well, the south.jet stream

If you look closely at that Jet Stream map-image you’ll see half of the Yukon (beside Alaska) is warmer than most of the Great Lakes region.

The same thing, and just about the same picture, happened  in the record-setting cold winter of 2014-15. Only the bitter cold came early and stayed long, right into an unusually cold, late spring.

The science is still going through a steep learning curve. Climatologists are not jumping to conclusions; they know how many global warming deniers are still out there, waiting for any excuse to discredit it, and them; like it’s all just some wacky superstition, or worse, a global conspiracy.

But the real experts are increasingly convinced it’s a climate-change problem.

I knew that. And who am I? Just an old guy hoping for spring so I can plant some potatoes.

“Climate change” is the term more frequently used now than “global warming” which is the root cause because extreme weather events, such as record-cold winters in parts of North America, clearly don’t always involve warming. That is the trend in the polar regions though: the ice and snow cover in the Arctic, including the ice that used to cover most of the Arctic Ocean year-round has been melting at a higher than expected rate. As a result more of the sun’s energy is being absorbed by the water and the land, thus exacerbating the problem. (Now there’s a daily prompt word if I ever saw one.)

It all adds up to an ongoing shake-up in the equilibrium of the high-altitude Jet Stream, and the even higher-altitude Polar Vortex that swirls around the North Poler, as far south as Baffin Island and north-east Siberia. (Antarctica has its own Polar Vortex).

Think of it as two big, but very good dancers who have fallen out of step because it’s just too darn hot in their northern dance hall.

Normally, the Arctic Polar Vortex took the lead in keeping the coldest, far-northern Arctic air where it belongs: up there, not down here.

Not any more, or at least not reliably. Climatologists had already started looking at how global warming/climate change might be affecting the relative equilibrium of the Polar Vortex when the winter of 2014-15 broke all Canadian records for cold weather for months on end. It was the same story in much of the U.S. That winter was also so unusually severe on the Korean peninsula that a  team of researchers in South Korea was set up to look into it. They found the part of the Polar Vortex that normally spends most of its time parked over north-eastern Siberia had dropped much further south


“At least the sun is shining,” says Mr. Massey Too

Both then and now, the giant lobe of frigid, Polar-Vortex air that, with the Jet Stream’s help, dropped down from Canada’s far north and settled right over the Great Lakes region. It is slowly, very slowly, moving west to east, hopefully far away, far, far away.

Oh, you’re going so soon? Was it something I said? Well, if you must go, here’s your coat. Don’t let me rush you. It’s been so much fun having you here for the last  two weeks. Give us a call some time. Smile, Mr. Masseys.



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