Broken Winter: Have weather patterns shifted beyond recognition?

-20 at Ash Lake (northern St Louis County off Hwy 53) this morning

(Coldest spot in the nation! Thanks to Mark Seeley for this report)

-17 in Crane Lake, Minnesota this morning! (Near the Boundary Waters)

Near 0 in the metro by Saturday morning?

-20s in Europe cold wave

+50 50 degrees warmer in Alaska than this time last week

Cold air on the move around the northern hemisphere

More like winter than “spring” in Minnesota next 2 weeks

Rare tropical disturbance in Florida in February?

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“Something is definitely up with the weather, and it is clear to me that over the past two years, the climate has shifted to a new state capable of delivering rare and unprecedented weather events.” -Jeff Masters describing radical changes in weather patterns over the past 2 years.

Cold Air on the move:

Northern Minnesota finally woke up to real winter this morning.

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Sub-zero temps blanketed the northland, and a north wind is making it feel increasingly winter-like in the south too.

Crane Lake dipped to -17 this morning. Ash Lake to -20. That’s pretty respectable for February.

The cold will linger today and tomorrow, before a brief milder spell Thursday precedes the next (more arctic) front Friday.

Yes, it’s finally going to feel like winter around here by the weekend…even if the lack of snow means it still looks like early spring in much of southern Minnesota.

Shifting weather patterns:

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A man walks past an ice-covered car Sunday on the frozen waterside promenade at Lake Geneva in Versoix, Switzerland.

Until 2-3 weeks ago, the cold air had been mostly bottled up around the poles and in Alaska. That’s changing.

A huge arctic high pressure dome has moved into Europe bringing the coldest weather in 15 years and record snows to some areas.

Cold is also moving into the lower 48 United States this week, and it looks like it may hang around for a couple of weeks.

The “Broken Winter” of 2011-’12 appears to be “fixed” in Minnesota, at least for now. February may end up being the coldest month overall this winter in Minnesota.

Is this the new normal?

The incredible record and highly unusual weather patterns of the past 2 years are causing some meteorologists (including me) to ask if a bigger shift has occurred. The weather maps we’re looking at just don’t seem to fit seasonal pattern we studied in school and have observed over the past 25 years.

When you look at weather maps everyday for decades there are seasonal patterns that evolve. Those patterns just don’t seem to fit anymore.

Over the past two years we’ve seen several events that are so out of place compared to “normal” that it makes us wonder if the overall climate has shifted so much that we don’t recognize what we’re looking at anymore.

Consder these events of just the past two years.

-Tornado alley shifted north in 2010, Minnesota lead the nation in tornadoes in 2010

-A record number of “Billion Dollar Weather Disasters” in 2011

-Long standing all time heat records broken in many countries worldwide

-The “Broken Winter” of 2011-’12

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-A rare tropical weather disturbance in Florida in February

These events are causing many of us, like Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters, to ask if we’re witnessing climate shifts unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“I discussed in an appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered on Friday just how unusual the atmospheric flow patterns have been this winter, and today’s rare tropical disturbance over South Florida is symptomatic of how whacked-out our 2012 atmosphere has been. In isolation, the strange winter weather of 2011 – 2012 could be a natural rare occurrence, but there have been way too many strange atmospheric events in the past two years for them all to be simply an unusually long run of natural extremes. Something is definitely up with the weather, and it is clear to me that over the past two years, the climate has shifted to a new state capable of delivering rare and unprecedented weather events. Human emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide are the most likely cause of such a shift in the climate, as I discussed in my post last week, Where is the climate headed?” It’s a great question.

I can tell you this for sure. The weather maps I’m looking at in the past two years bear little resemblance to what I’ve seen over the past 25 years of watching daily weather patterns.

Forecasting the weather for Minnesota these days is like forecasting for some strange land I am not familiar with. It’s like a roller coater ride I can’t get off, and I’m not sure where it’s headed. The thing is, we’re all on this ride together…and I don’t know where we’re going to end up.


  • Craig

    Great blog. I wonder what Jeff Masters would have said about the weather in the 1930s. I wish Bruce Watson was still alive to share his thoughts on the climate changing. Wonderful satellite imagery shared yesterday.

  • Ross

    This is a great post. Similar reports should be on the evening news, but they have not been. The scariest thing about climate change, in my view, is not the planet warming (though that is concerning for those of us who love long winters and lingering snows), but it is that we really have no idea what the ultimate effect of the warming will be on local weather. As you imply in your post, predictable weather models will increasingly fail, which is concerning given our utter dependence upon predictable weather patterns. Is there any research on how the Earth has fought back against climate changes in the past (i.e. it is conceivable that the Earth has a series of defense mechanism to preserve the stasis of the climate before positive–or, in the case of past cooling, negative–feedback loops could kick)?

  • charles Blackmer

    Nice picture from Modis. How can Ifind the link to get daily pictures, the Modis webite doesn’t seem to have a feature for finding a particular area, it had it once under Pike Lake which tok in Northern Minn. Thanks