Note: the image below is an animation, on some browsers you may have to click on it to get it to animate.
Above: Image from Unisys showing the circumpolar vortex during the last big outbreak and decay in the CONUS. Animation by Anthony h/t to Scott Sabol Fox 8 for the source.
Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball
Recently Talk Show host Conan O’Brien played a compilation of TV news people all making essentially the same comment. They were using a phrase prepared by some central PR agency, something like their subscription to a news agency like Associated Press (AP).
It’s orchestration of a message using artificial words or phrases to control and promote misinformation and deception. A good example was the use of the word “glitch” in reference to the abject failure of the Affordable Care Act web site. Sometimes the words are created, to marginalize and denigrate a group; “birther” is a person who questions the President Obama’s resume. Climate has two prime examples; Global Warming Skeptic and Climate Change Denier. They are forms of collective personal attacks, if that isn’t a contradiction.
Manufactured terminology appeared in climate in conjunction with its use as a political vehicle. Catch phrases appeared that created false, but threatening images such as the Greenhouse Effect (Artificial Heat) or the Ozone Hole (Leaking). Mechanisms of climate change were presented as something new even though they were well known and in the literature for decades. The idea that they were “new” played into the deliberate attempt to link them to human causes. I recall when El Nino first appeared in the public forum because it moved north and impacted California in 1983. Most thought it was a new phenomenon, therefore caused by humans. The common denominator of most environmental and climate science of the last 40 years is the determination to find a human cause for everything. The IPCC ensured this because the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) limited their research by definition to human causes of climate change.
The latest example of phrase creation is the resurrection by Obama’s Science Czar John Holdren of the term “polar vortex”. It’s resurrected because the term was used by Time magazine in 1974 when they explained global cooling as follows,
“Scientists have found other indications of global cooling. For one thing there has been a noticeable expansion of the great belt of dry, high-altitude polar winds — the so-called circumpolar vortex — that sweep from west to east around the top and bottom of the world.”
In January 2014 they said
“It may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely. Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles.”
Notice the first says “circumpolar vortex” and the second “polar vortex”. Holdren attributed the recent cold spell to his invented term of “Polar Vortex” and took the unusual step of producing, a two minute video. It only served to illustrate his ignorance. He is a master at changing terminology such as his introduction of “climate disruption” as adjectives ‘warming’ and ‘change’ lose their effect. Disruption implies it is anomalous or new. It doesn’t matter if the term or the explanation is wrong, the goal is to get a headline and imply a human cause; with Polar Vortex it worked well.
Originally the Circumpolar Vortex (CV) was the middle latitude wind that blew around the Poles from west to east. The faster moving segments with speeds above 30 m/sec (108 kph), were designated as Jet Streams. Over time the entire circulation became the Jet Stream. The CV is also called the westerlies referring to the overall direction of flow of winds and weather systems in the middle latitudes (35 to 65°). The CV is a strong wind at altitude first identified by pressurized US B29 (Flying Fortress) bombers going to bomb Japan.
As early as 1925 Carl Rossby began his study of the Polar Front, the boundary between the cold polar air and the warmer tropical air. (Figure 1) Temperatures across the Front are the greatest so above the surface, away from the effect of friction, they combine to create the CV. Waves in the CV determine the shape of the Polar Front and the associated surface weather patterns.
The Front is coincident with the boundary between surplus and deficit energy or line of Zero Energy Balance (ZEB) (Figure 2). By 1946 Rossby identified the large planetary waves given his name (Figure 4).
The challenging issue in the early days was to explain the development of sinuosity in the Vortex. Apparently, if a liquid or gas flows through a uniform medium it will begin as a straight line flow and develop a sine wave pattern. This applies to rivers flowing through sediment to develop meander waves and also to the sinuous pattern of the Gulf Stream (water through water). The CV is air flowing through air.
The CV as upper level winds are affected by the high mountain chains that run north/south across their flow, such as the Andes in the Southern Hemisphere Andes and Rockies. Standing waves develop in the flow downwind of these obstacles. Since the latitude of the CV moves north and south with the seasons the influence and downwind effect varies. For example, when the CV crosses the Rockies in central Alberta a very confused turbulent pattern develops downwind making forecasting very difficult. In Alberta they say only a fool or a newcomer tries to predict the weather.
The strength of the CV is different between the hemispheres because of the land/ocean distribution. In the Southern Hemisphere it is more clearly defined and the winds much stronger because you have a very cold Antarctica surrounded by continuous open warmer southern oceans. This is an important difference in the pattern of distribution of ozone. In the Northern Hemisphere it is an Arctic Ocean surrounded by land creating a very different juxtaposition.
A recent paper by Barnes et.al., discussed at WUWT claims there is no pattern, which implies no cause/effect, between atmospheric blocking, Arctic warming and sea ice conditions. They wrote
“…an increase in blocking could mean an increase in weather extremes as Arctic sea ice continues to decline. However, both observational and modeling studies suggest that any potential link between sea ice and midlatitude weather may be masked by internal variability.” and, “…the link between recent Arctic warming and increased Northern Hemisphere blocking is currently not supported by observations.”.
As usual the data base is completely inadequate in space and time as their diagrams illustrate. More problematic is the implication that sea ice is a cause of blocking and the changing wind conditions determine sea ice patterns. This was the situation that resulted in the dramatic change of ice conditions in 1816 during the cold temperatures associate with the Dalton Minimum. The extreme Meridional Flow was caused by the eruption of Tambora as we determined at the 1992 conference in Ottawa. It was also finally acknowledged by NASA as the major cause of changing ice conditions in 2007.
Nghiem said the rapid decline in winter perennial ice the past two years was caused by unusual winds. “Unusual atmospheric conditions set up wind patterns that compressed the sea ice, loaded it into the Transpolar Drift Stream and then sped its flow out of the Arctic,” he said. When that sea ice reached lower latitudes, it rapidly melted in the warmer waters.
This problem of inferring that surface conditions cause upper air patterns is prevalent in current climate science. The classic example is the weakening and even reversal of the subtropical easterlies that are the primary initiating factor in the El Nino/La Nina pattern. What causes the change in these upper level winds?
One way the surface affects conditions is the air sitting on the ground takes on the characteristics of the area. Historically this was known as the “Air Mass” system. For example, air that sat over cold snow covered Arctic land became a continental Arctic (cA) air mass (Figure 3). It was the same as the recent outbreak of Arctic air in eastern North America.
Marcel Leroux revisited this process in his 2005 book Global Warming: Myth or Reality? The Erring Ways of Climatology. Leroux simply renamed the cA air mass the Mobile Polar High (MPH). The important point is the air moves because of the upper flow enhanced by the density of the air.
Two basic patterns can occur in the CV, described as Zonal and Meridional (Figure 4). Zonal gives relatively stable weather in the middle latitudes with generally prevailing southwest winds in summer and northwest in winter. Meridional flow brings more north/south winds, variable weather especially of temperature and precipitation. So far the focus has been on averages and trends, but we must start considering variation. It is changing was Meridional Flow asserts itself. This is one positive side of the increased variability of weather that cooled Washington and forced Holdren to create the “Polar Vortex”. People are so conditioned most assume a new terminology means it is a result of human activities. This is possible because most are unaware of the historical patterns associate with cooling an Meridional flow.
The number of waves around the complete Vortex varies, but generally creates two groups of Rossby Waves; 1-4 with Zonal conditions or 5 – 8 with Meridional flow. The length of time over which each can last varies but can persist for decades, which is a major reason why the paper by Barnes is inadequate and the 30 – year normal is unhelpful.
Rossby Waves move along the Polar Front so that the weather pattern changes approximately every 4 to 6 weeks. As cooling occurs the Polar Front moves toward the equator and a Meridional pattern develops. When this happens amplitude reaches a certain depth (north/south) and blocking occurs. Usually this delays the movement of the Waves so weather patterns persist for 8 even up to 10 weeks. It is called Omega blocking reflecting the Greek letter shape on the weather map. (Ω)
With a Meridional pattern cold air pushes toward the Equator and warm air toward the Poles. This pattern was very apparent globally over the last few weeks. Normally media only look at the warmer areas, unless the cold hits politically sensitive regions, such as the eastern US. Figures 5 and 6 illustrate another problem with changes in the Rossby Wave pattern on global temperatures.
Figure 5 shows cold air over eastern North America and Western Europe and Figure 6 warm air over those regions. The black dots represent weather station but present a distorted picture because of the map scale, nonetheless they show how different positions of the Rossby Waves creates different emphasis on densely populated and Urban Heat Island affected stations of eastern North America and Western Europe.
As the dome of cold polar air expands (Figure 1) seasonally or because of global cooling the mean position of the Polar Front moves toward the Equator increasing the temperature contrast between the two air masses. Cold air is denser and heavier than warm air so it dictates what happens as we know from the evolution of mid latitude cyclogenesis. With this new pattern the surplus energy from the tropics is increasingly concentrated in the warm axes Waves thus increasing the temperature.
This likely explains why when extreme cold pushes south, as it did in the recent cold spell over eastern North America, very warm Wave regions develop.
The pattern of the Waves also determines precipitation events. For example, the extreme Meridional flow of 1816 caused an extreme drought in central and western North America. Agricultural droughts in the middle latitudes are related to blocking when dry conditions persist for 8 to 10 weeks. Similarly, flooding occurs in other regions. We can witness these patterns now with the flooding in Britain as the following headline attests: “Water, water everywhere: Britain at risk of more flooding as heavy rain looms.” Meanwhile drought is impacting northwest coast of America.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, released Dec. 26, showed abnormally dry to drought conditions across Oregon and abnormally dry conditions across much of Washington. Drought conditions were shown in other Western states, too.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he “suspects” the storms and floods are linked to climate change. He is right for the wrong reason. He believes the changes are the result of warming when they are actually due to cooling. It appears it is ignorance not a political distortion. Agenda 21 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) arose out of the works of members of the Club of Rome to which Holdren was a major contributor. When climate was chosen as a political vehicle it became a war. It became “us against them” or “if you are not with me you must be against me”. And as Aeschylus said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”