Cutting Cold: The Sword is Back!

January 29, 2016
Alaskan Snowstorm

Do you hear the swish of the Sword of Damocles overhead? Last winter I wrote about that ancient sword and compared it to the threat of winter cold.

Something scary is hanging overhead! (By Richard Westall. 1812)

Just as in the Greek legend, when a deadly sword hung suspended over Damocles throne (to remind him that with power came great danger and worry), so tremendous cold lies due north of the US. It is just waiting to crash in on us. It has already created the coldest November weather in decades. Wait until you feel it in January!


The Arctic sea ice at the end of August 2014. SOURCE: National Snow and Ice Data Center

While headlines have proclaimed that the October ocean temperatures were the warmest on record, what wasn't mentioned is that the Arctic was quite cold.

At the end of the summer melting season, the Arctic sea ice was 1.5 million square kilometers, (579,000 sq. miles) greater than two years ago. When it is that cold in the Arctic in summer, it usually leads to a chilly winter here in the US.

Just like Damocles’ sword, which was suspended by a horse hair, it doesn’t take much to cause that Arctic cold to drop. In October, it was a moderate volcano eruption in the northern areas of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, which changed air pressure and the pattern of the polar jet stream. This November, it was the combination of another Russian volcano and the remnants of the Pacific’s Super Typhoon Nuri. They combined to form a record-breaking storm off of Alaska, which traveled inland and encouraged the polar jet stream to drop south again. When it was over, every Canadian province and all but six US states had November snowfall.

From powerful Alaskan storm to snowing on 44 states, it doesn’t take much to encourage Arctic air to plunge south. SOURCE: NOAA

So keep the coats out. Like the legendary sword, sharp cold is waiting to fall on the US for the rest of this fall and winter.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.