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Santa's Weather

December 16, 2011

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Look out, Santa! According to some reports, Good St. Nick not only has to worry about delivering a few billion gifts, but the North Pole may melt out from under his feet!

How accurate is that warning?

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the Arctic ice pack has been melting rapidly this year and is now 919,000 square miles below the thirty-year average minimum.

It is currently at the second lowest extent ever measured. (The records only extend back to 1979.)

Melting Arctic Ice, – This is a much lower amount of ice than there used to be before 2000.

Does this mean that Santa and the elves will join the polar bears floating on dwindling icebergs?

Actually, this ice melt is due to several factors, some of which are natural. Two long-term ocean cycles, the AMO (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation) and PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), have been shifting more warm water north for several years. Some of these warmer waters are leaking into the Arctic Ocean, causing the sea ice to melt.

At the same time, a climate cycle, called the Arctic Oscillation, has weakened the winds circling the North Pole. This is allowing polar winds to plunge further south. Remember last winter and all that cold air? What is happening is that the cold air is less concentrated in the north and making the weather colder in the middle latitudes. The winds are affecting the surface waters of the Arctic Ocean and blowing more icebergs south into warmer, melting waters. 

The Positive (top) and Negative (bottom) Arctic Oscillation. The negative AO lets Arctic air escape south. It has been more negative over the last few years, letting cold air and sea ice plunge south.

The negative AO causes colder weather in the Eastern US and warmer conditions in the Arctic. We had very negative AO conditions over the last two chilly winters.

History shows that these cycles in the Arctic come and go. The 1980s saw a lot of cold Arctic ice build-up. The current decade is seeing more melting.

Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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Thanks For the Sane Discussion of Arctic Ice Melt

By jeltez42

Thank you for pointing out that Arctic Ice Pack records only go back to 1979 and the brief, yet understandable explaination of the AO and other factors that control that region.

It also begs to be said that we do not have a long enough span of data to determine any Arctic ice trends. Typically, more than 50 years of data is needed before anyone will even start guessing at a trend.

Are you sure that years of Arctic Ice depth records are not sitting next to your triple top secret weather forecasting formula? I mean your group has thought of everything, literally, for hundreds of years. I say this with due all love and respect.

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