What a Stuffy Nose Teaches Us About A Heat Wave

December 6, 2016

Are you celebrating winter with the dreaded common cold? It may be miserable, but it is showing you something about the weather.

Just as your stuffed nose blocks relief and makes your sinuses swell (Ouch!), so a warm Atlantic Gulf Stream can get blocked, building up heat. All that hot water then warms the Eastern US and parts of Canada. 

Remember, 70% of the Earth’s surface is the oceans. Heat from the oceans flow into North America. So, heat from a hot Atlantic pours into North America.

In December, 2015, the East got 30°F (22°C) hotter than normal.

Blame it on the blob and the Gulf Stream. The Atlantic Ocean has a cool blob of water south of Iceland. (No one knows why, but it is south of where a huge sulfur-spewing volcano erupted for 6 months and sulfur in the atmosphere cools things off.) The ocean also has the mighty Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream flows from the equator to the North Atlantic, carrying hot tropical water. The water normally carries the warm water through the Gulf of Mexico, past the East Coast and sprays Europe before sinking into the cold Arctic waters. The heat from the ocean pours inland, heating the US, Canada and Europe.

The flow off the warm Gulf Stream is being blocked by the cold “Atlantic Blob” Source: NOAA

Now think of your poor aching nose during a horrible cold. (We will now pause this blog so that you can moan!) The cold blob in the Atlantic is slowing the eastward flow of the warm Gulf Stream. Like your sinuses during a cold, the pressure is building up. More hot water is stuck on the western side of the Atlantic off the East Coast. It’s getting hot out there.

Not only is the Gulf Stream hot, put the El Niño in the Pacific is creating warm temperatures as well. Talk about piling on the heat.


Warm Atlantic waters = Warm Eastern US Source: NOAA

So be prepared. You are doomed to be relatively warm and cozy. Now that is better than a cold, isn’t it?


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.