Lest anyone freezing to the south think we’re enjoying a balmy break from winter, people and cars are slipping all over water-covered ice, dozens of snowmobiles are half-submerged in pools of water, lots of windshields are blowing off those snowmobiles and tourists are paying a fortune to slog through vast slush-filled wastelands.
Temperatures soaring to four degrees Celsius during the past 24 hours made Longyearbyen the warmest town in Norway, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute reported Tuesday morning. The freakishly warm weather – although not nearly as freakish as it was even a decade ago, thanks to the rapid onset of climate change – was accompanied by intense rain and winds gusting to gale speeds, resulting in various forms of misery for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t stay indoors.
Multiple posts on local Facebook pages Tuesday showed rows of snowmobiles in deep rain/melt water at various places around town, accompanied by warnings about removing them before freezing weather sets in (expected shortly after midnight Wednesday) and traps the vehicles in ice. Temperatures are forecast to remain well below freezing after that through at least late next week.
Assuming Longyearbyen’s temperatures for February remain above normal, it will be the 87th straight month of above-average temperatures for the city.
A high-pressure system pushing cold air from Siberia toward the mainland caused the temperature inversion (which media are referring to as the”Beast from the East”), with Oslo dropping to minus 16 Celsius, according to the weather service. Much of central Europe also experienced temperatures well below normal – a rare snowstorm hit Rome on Monday and some Brussels mayors planned to detain homeless overnight if they refused shelter with temperatures set to fall as low as minus 10 Celsius during the coming week.
Meanwhile, the region near the North Pole experienced its warmest February since at least the 1950s and Cape Morris Jesup – one of the northernmost land-based weather stations – exceeded the freezing mark on an unprecedented nine separate days during the month, according to news reports. On Feb. 25, that weather station remained above freezing for about 24 hours, which is virtually unheard of during February, when there is no sunlight reaching the ground there.
“I think it’s fair to say that this event is unprecedented in our record — both in terms of the magnitude and (for Kap Morris Jesup at least) the duration,” Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote in a Twitter message, using the Danish spelling for Cape Morris Jessup. “The warm event at KMJ is not record breaking in terms of the highest ever recorded temperature in February, but that event in 2011 was very short-lived compared to what we have seen this year…A prolonged period like this has definitely not been seen before.”
Around the entire Arctic region, temperatures are now about 20 degrees Celsius above normal at minus eight degrees Celsius (17.6°F), according to DMI calculations.