Dec 15, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Arctic blast takes aim at U.S. for Christmas, New Years

Computer model projection of temperature anomalies on Dec. 23.

Computer model map showing temperature departures from average in °F on Dec. 23. Image:

A blast of Arctic air straight from Siberia is poised to spread across the continental U.S. around Christmas, shattering records and potentially spinning up major storms.

Why it matters: Meteorologists tell Axios this may be the most extreme cold air mass to affect the U.S. during December in many years, with computer model data showing temperatures running 30 degrees below average by Dec. 23.

  • The end result may revive talk of more extreme cold as a paradoxical effect of human-caused global warming since the Arctic will wind up milder than average while the lower latitudes freeze.
  • It will also drive up prices for natural gas at a time of tight global energy supplies. It could test electrical grids, as well.

The big picture: The Arctic outbreak, which will first affect western Canada early next week before diving into the Plains, Central U.S. and East, is the product of several weather phenomena.

  • There is an unusually powerful area of high pressure over Greenland, known as the Greenland Block, which enhances the odds of cold and snow in Europe and the U.S.
  • There is also an extreme alignment of weather systems over the North Atlantic, which also favors extreme cold in Europe and North America.
  • Next, the final key piece will move into place: An area of high pressure across eastern Siberia and Alaska that will funnel frigid air across the Arctic and into the U.S.
  • Such cross-polar winds are a hallmark of extreme cold outbreaks.

Zoom in: Recently, the astonishing cold has been building up in Siberia, with temperatures as low as -61°C (-77.8°F) recorded this week. That air mass will slither toward the U.S., moderating some as it does so.

What they’re saying: Judah Cohen, head of seasonal forecasting at AER, a Verisk company, told Axios via email the coming event has the potential to be "one of the coldest Arctic outbreaks in December in years."

  • "The overall setup for this event is classic for major cold air outbreaks across much of central North America," Jason Furtado, a University of Oklahoma meteorologist, told Axios via email.
  • He said the unusual cold may last into early 2023.

The intrigue: Though the world is warming overall in response to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, cold air outbreaks still do occur during winter.

Yes, but: While a noteworthy cold outbreak seems a virtual lock in this case, there are important uncertainties.

  • These include just how intense this cold air will be, the duration of the cold snap, as well as how many winter storms may sweep across the U.S. and potentially up the East Coast.
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