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Computer model projected 10 mb geopotential heights (dam; contours) across the Northern Hemisphere for Jan. 2 through Jan. 18. Credit: GFS model via Judah Cohen/AER Verisk

Scientists are seeing signs that global weather patterns toward the latter half of January and into February may shift significantly to usher in severe winter weather for parts of the U.S. and Europe.

How it works: The possible changes are being triggered by a sudden and drastic warming of the air in the stratosphere, some 100,000 feet above the Arctic, and by a resulting disruption of the polar vortex — an area of low pressure at high altitudes near the pole that, when disrupted, can wobble like a spinning top and send cold air to the south. In this case, it could split into three pieces, and those pieces would determine who gets hit the hardest.

The big picture: Studies show that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic, and rapid Arctic warming may paradoxically be leading to more frequent cold weather outbreaks in Europe, Asia and North America, particularly later in the winter.

During the past 2 weeks, a sudden stratospheric warming event has taken place, showing up first in the Siberian Arctic, and then spreading over the North Pole.

  • Such events occur when large atmospheric waves surge beyond the troposphere and into the layer of air above it. Such a vertical transport of energy can rapidly warm the stratosphere, and set in motion a chain reaction that disrupts the stratospheric polar vortex.
  • Sudden stratospheric warming events are known to affect the weather in the U.S. and Europe on a time delay — typically on the order of a week to several weeks later, and their effects may persist for more than a month.

"In general, we see colder than normal temperatures over much of the U.S. and Europe/Northern Asia, and warmer than normal temperatures over Greenland and subtropical Africa/Asia" in the 60 days following sudden stratospheric warming events, Amy Butler, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, told Axios in an email.

What's next: Polar vortex projections show it's likely to split into possibly as many as 3 "sister vortices," spilling cold air out of the Arctic and concentrating it in spots across Eurasia and North America.

  • In the past, polar vortex splits have been associated with major snowstorms, including 2010, when the Mid-Atlantic region was buried by blizzards.
  • A sudden stratospheric warming event and polar vortex disruption was associated with several March snowstorms in the Northeast last winter, as well as the "Beast from the East" cold spell in Europe.
  • Such events can have major ramifications for energy markets, leading to natural gas price spikes, for example.

What they're saying: “Arctic change has increased the frequency of these polar vortex disruption events and following these polar vortex disruption events you get more severe winter weather," says Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at AER, a Verisk company, who studies the connections between Arctic climate change and altered weather patterns.

  • Cohen and Michael Ventrice, a meteorologist at The Weather Company, told Axios that there are increasing signs of high pressure forming over the North Atlantic near Greenland as well as close to the North Pole in late January, which can block the progress of weather systems moving from west to east.
  • Such blocking patterns may be a manifestation of the polar vortex disruption, and favor colder and stormier weather in the eastern U.S. and parts of Europe.
  • “Eventually we do think this blocking will set up,” Ventrice said. “I would not give up on winter.”

Go deeper

FAA clears more planes after 5G fears

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it had approved nearly 80% of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports with new 5G services after fears of signal interference limited 5G rollout.

Why it matters: The FAA approvals will help provide more certainty after the agency raised fears that 5G signals could reduce the accuracy of certain equipment, known as radio altimeters, that helps planes land and take off in inclement weather.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton stock tanks on report of production halt

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Peloton stock fell by as much as 25% on Thursday, following a CNBC report that the connected fitness company will temporarily halt production on its bikes and treadmills.

Why it matters: Peloton is viewed by many as a proxy for consumer behavior in the pandemic era, as its popularity surged when gyms closed and people wanted to exercise at home.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker