The breakdown of the Polar Vortex. It happened before so, What would follow? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)

The breakdown of the Polar Vortex. It happened before so, What would follow? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)

(03/09/2014_ Updated with comments below)

It has been reported that the polar vortex breakdown over the winter of 2009-10 was the most extreme on record for the previous 145 years. So, based on what followed the event in the summer of 2010, what could be following this year’s winter event?

I present here a description of the weather disruption triggered by the polar vortex breakdown in the winter 2009-2010 by the NOAA and the Met Office . And finally, the summary elaborated by the NOAA describing the summer of 2010 that followed such winter.

NOAA. The polar vortex breakdown in 2009 was the most extreme on record for the previous 145 years.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a natural climate pattern that is the dominant mode of winter climate variability for the region, which ranges from central North America to Europe and into Northern Asia. A strongly negative NAO can indicate a breakdown of the Polar Vortex. Last winter, there were two extreme cold continent events — and the breakdown of the Vortex, as measured by the NAO, was the most extreme on record for the past 145 years.

Posted Feb. 28, 2011 NOAA logo.

Warm Arctic, Cold Continents

Changes in the Arctic Are Hitting Closer to Home

Arctic atmospheric pressue.

The low Arctic pressure field is shown by purple colors in the figure for December 1968–1996. Strong Polar Vortex winds circle this pressure field, trapping cold air in the Arctic regions. In December 2009, this pattern broke down, Polar Vortex winds weakened (green colors) and cold Arctic air (which parallels the color contours) flowed southward.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

It’s a puzzle: How could warmth in the Arctic produce frigid conditions elsewhere?

NOAA scientists may have a clue.

Extremely cold winds have swept down through the Northern Hemisphere recently, reaching as far south as the state of Florida and causing record low temperatures in January. The unusually cold winter of 2009–2010 – which saw massive snowstorms dubbed “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon” — and the frigid start to 2011 in the eastern United States and Europe have scientists talking about what might be influencing the weather.

Dr. James Overland, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in Seattle, has been studying the changing conditions in the Arctic for 30 years. He explains why the deterioration of the Polar Vortex could be leading to some of these extreme winter weather events.

“When the Polar Vortex — a ring of winds circling the Arctic — breaks down, this allows cold air to spill south, affecting the eastern United States and other regions,” says Dr. Overland. “This can result in a warmer-than-average Arctic region and colder temperatures that may include severe winter weather events on the North American and European continents.”

A Polar Vortex link to Winter 2009-2010?

The Polar Vortex is a strong wind flowing around a low-pressure system normally present over the Arctic in winter. Average December values from 1968–1996 show the Polar Vortex remaining strong and helping to keep the cold air in the Arctic region. During winter of 2009–2010, this normal pattern broke down, and a weakened Polar Vortex allowed cold Arctic air to move southward.

“In December 2009, the Arctic was 9 degrees F warmer than normal, and mid-latitude continents were 9 degrees F cooler than normal, with record cold and snow conditions in northern Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America,” says Dr. Overland. “This is the Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern. The winter of 2009–2010 had especially extreme weather in the U.S. as moisture from El Nino hit cold air from the Arctic.”

Warm Arctic - Cold Continent Climate Pattern.

A map of the Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern for December 2010 shows warmer than usual air temperature (red) in the Arctic, especially for regions that were sea-ice-free in summer — north of Alaska, Hudson Bay and in the Barents Sea. Cold continents (purple) are seen where Arctic air has penetrated southward.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Why are we seeing these changes now?

According to the 2010 Arctic Report Card, there is reduced sea summer sea ice cover, record snow cover decreases, and record temperatures. Could these changes be linked to the weakened Polar Vortex and extreme winter weather events?

Many factors, including natural climate variability, can produce extreme weather events. But, there also is a potential impact from Arctic regions, where solar heat absorbed by recently ice-free regions of the ocean warms the atmosphere during autumn, impacting the winds. More research is needed to study the causes and extent of the recently observed Warm Arctic-Cold Continent pattern.

“Some scientists are beginning to suspect that the lack of sea ice allows the oceans to pump heat into the atmosphere in the Arctic in a way that could impact weather patterns such as the North Atlantic Oscillation,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “The idea is still very much in its infancy, but it’s worth looking into. If it turns out to be right, it could help to explain the frigid winters the eastern United States and Europe have experienced these past two years.”

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a natural climate pattern that is the dominant mode of winter climate variability for the region, which ranges from central North America to Europe and into Northern Asia. A strongly negative NAO can indicate a breakdown of the Polar Vortex. Last winter, there were two extreme cold continent events — and the breakdown of the Vortex, as measured by the NAO, was the most extreme on record for the past 145 years.

Undoubtedly, changes in the Arctic are being felt near and far. The winters of 2009 and 2010 serve as a jumping off point for more research to determine potential linkages between Arctic changes and continental weather to help predict if the Northern latitudes will witness colder winters in the future as more summer sea ice is lost.

Learn more about NOAA’s “cool” work in the Arctic: Visit

Met office. UK, Snow and low temperatures – December 2009 to January 2010

From Thursday 17 December 2009 to Friday 15 January 2010 the UK experienced a spell of very low temperatures and significant snowfalls which affected almost the whole country.

This was the most widespread and prolonged spell of this type across the UK since December 1981/January 1982. Large areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland regularly saw night-time temperatures falling well below freezing, and on occasion below -10 °C, while in Scotland night-time temperatures in the Highland glens regularly fell to -15 °C or lower. Daytime temperatures in many areas frequently struggled to rise above freezing, often remaining several degrees below.

The freezing temperatures were accompanied by widespread snowfalls on many days throughout the period. With daytime temperatures often failing to rise above freezing, little thawing occurred so fresh snowfalls added to previous accumulations. Depths of 10 to 20 cm were widespread across England and Wales, whilst across upland areas of northern England and in the Scottish Highlands, depths exceeded 30 cm in many areas.


The snowfalls and widespread freezing conditions caused very significant disruption across the UK through this period. Transport was particularly badly affected with snowfalls causing numerous road closures, and train and flight cancellations.

The first snowfalls on Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 December affected mainly eastern parts of the UK, but on Sunday 20th the focus shifted to northern and western parts with Northern Ireland and the Manchester area experiencing heavy snowfalls. On Monday 21st, areas west of London were badly affected, while on Tuesday 22nd and Wednesday 23rd icy conditions caused further problems. On the 23rd, rain falling on freezing surfaces in counties bordering the English Channel formed sheet ice and caused many accidents, and two people died in Cornwall after a bus overturned on sheet ice. Throughout this period the road and rail networks in Scotland were particularly badly affected by heavy snowfalls, with temperatures falling below -15 °C across the Highlands. Many airports were affected including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast and Inverness. Eurostar trains were also badly disrupted by snow in the run-up to Christmas.

The difficult conditions continued from Christmas to the New Year, although there was a brief spell of milder weather in the south. In Northern Ireland, thousands of households experienced difficulties with freezing water supplies. Heavy snow on Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th across Wales and the Peak District closed trunk roads, while in Scotland, 3 climbers died in avalanches on Ben Nevis and in Torridon.

The freezing conditions continued into the New Year with widespread ice causing treacherous conditions on roads and pavements, resulting in a spate of accidents and falls. Minor roads were particularly badly affected as in many parts these were untreated by road grit and salt due to concerns over supplies running low. Heavy snowfalls on Monday January 4th across north-west England saw Manchester and Liverpool airports closed for a time, with further snowfalls on the 5th causing continuing problems. Overnight on 5th/6th January, southern England, north-east Scotland and the Manchester area again all experienced heavy snow. 1,000 motorists were stranded overnight on the A3 in Hampshire, and there were further airport closures. On Thursday 7th, electricity supplies to 25,000 homes were interrupted as trees and ice brought down power lines. The 7th and 8th were bitterly cold across the UK, and on Friday 8th, two people died after falling through ice into a lake in Leicestershire. As a result of the snowfalls and freezing temperatures, thousands of schools remained closed through the week. A slight thaw on Sunday 10th and Monday 11th brought a brief respite. However, there were further snowfalls in south-west England and south Wales on the 12th, while on the 13th, these became more widespread to bring renewed disruption to roads, rail and air travel. It was only by Friday 15th that the thaw was well under way.

NOAA. Summer 2010 the second warmest on record, Arctic sea ice continues its 14-year decline

NOAA: 2010 Tied with 1998 as Warmest Global Temperature on Record

September 15, 2010

The first eight months of 2010 tied the same period in 1998 for the warmest combined land and ocean surface temperature on record worldwide. Meanwhile, the June–August summer was the second warmest on record globally after 1998, and last month was the third warmest August on record. Separately, last month’s global average land surface temperature was the second warmest on record for August, while the global ocean surface temperature tied with 1997 as the sixth warmest for August.

The monthly analysis from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, which is based on records going back to 1880, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides government, business and community leaders, so they can make informed decisions.

Global Temperature Highlights: Year-to-Date; August

  • For January–August 2010, the global combined land and ocean surface temperature of 58.5 F (14.7 C) tied with 1998 as the warmest January–August period on record. This value is 1.21 F (0.67 C) above the 20th century average.
  • The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for August 2010 was the third warmest on record at 61.2 F (16.2 C), which is 1.08 F (0.60 C) above the 20th century average of 60.1 F (15.6 C). August 1998 is the warmest August on record and 2009 is the second warmest.
  • The August worldwide land surface temperature was 1.62 F (0.90 C) above the 20th century average of 56.9 F (13.8 C) — the second warmest August on record behind 1998. Warmer-than-average conditions dominated land areas of the globe. The most prominent warmth was in eastern Europe, eastern Canada and parts of eastern Asia. Cooler-than-average regions included Australia, central Russia and southern South America.
    • The August 2010 average temperature across China was 70.5 F (21.4 C), which is 2.0 F (1.1 C) above the 1971-2000 average and the warmest August since 1961, according to the Beijing Climate Center.
    • Overall, the U.K. experienced its coolest August since 1993, according to the U.K. Met Office. Separately, England had its coolest August since 1993, Wales and Northern Ireland had their coolest August since 1994, and Scotland had its coolest August since 1998.
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.90 F (0.50 C) above the 20th century average of 61.4 F (16.4 C) and tied with 1997 as the sixth warmest August on record.
  • La Niña, the opposite oceanic phenomena as El Niño, continued to strengthen during August 2010 resulting in cooler sea surface temperatures across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, La Niña is expected to last at least through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2010–2011.

Global Temperature Highlights:  June through August

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June–August 2010 was the second warmest on record, behind 1998, at 61.3 F (16.2 C), which is 1.15 F (0.64 C) above the 20th century average of 60.1 F (15.6 C).
  • The June–August worldwide land surface temperature was 1.80 F (1.00 C) above the 20th century average of 56.9 F (13.8 C) — the warmest June–August on record, surpassing the previous record of 1.66 F (0.92 C) set in 1998.
    • Canada experienced its third warmest June–August since national records began in 1948, behind 1998, followed by 2006, according to Environment Canada. January–August 2010 also set a record for the warmest first eight months, surpassing the previous record set in 2006.
    • According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria and South Australia had their coolest June–August in 13 years, while New South Wales had its coolest June–August in a decade.
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.92 F (0.51 C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 F (16.4 C) and was the fifth warmest June–August on record.

Polar Sea Ice and Precipitation Highlights

  • Arctic sea ice covered an average of 2.3 million square miles (6.0 million square kilometers) during August. This is 22 percent below the 1979–2000 average extent and the second lowest August extent since records began in 1979. The record low August was set in 2007. This was the 14th consecutive August (1997–2010) with below-average Arctic sea ice extent.
  • Antarctic sea ice extent in August was 4.1 percent above the 1979–2000 average, resulting in the largest August sea ice extent on record. The previous record was set in August 2000.
  • According to the German Meteorological Service, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany had its wettest August since 1901.
  • According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, the continent received an average of 26.6 mm (1.0 inch) of precipitation during August 2010 — this is 42 percent above the 1961–1990 average. Regionally, Victoria had its wettest August since 1981, the Northern Territory had its wettest August since 1975 and Queensland had its wettest August since 1998.

About Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.

Citing This Site "Title", published online "Month"+"Year", retrieved on "Month""Day", "Year" from By Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD. More guidance on citing this web as a source can be found at NASA webpage:! DOIs can be generated on demand by request at email: d.fdezsevilla(at) for those publications missing at the ResearchGate profile vinculated with this project. **Author´s profile: Born in 1974. Bachelor in General Biology, Masters degree "Licenciado" in Environmental Sciences (2001, Spain). PhD in Aerobiology (2007, UK). Lived, acquired training and worked in Spain, UK, Germany and Poland. I have shared the outcome from my work previous to 2013 as scientific speaker in events held in those countries as well as in Switzerland and Finland. After 12 years performing research and working in institutions linked with environmental research and management, in 2013 I found myself in a period of transition searching for a new position or funding to support my own line of research. In the current competitive scenario, in order to demonstrate my capacities instead of just moving my cv waiting for my next opportunity to arrive, I decided to invest my energy and time in opening my own line of research sharing it in this blog. In March 2017 the budget reserved for this project has ended and its weekly basis time frame discontinued until new forms of economic and/or institutional support are incorporated into the project. The value of the data and the original nature of the research presented in this platform and at LinkedIn has proved to be worthy of consideration by the scientific community as well as for publication in scientific journals. However, without a position as member of an institution, it becomes very challenging to be published. I hope that this handicap do not overshadow the value of my achievements and that the Intellectual Property Rights generated with the license of attribution attached are respected and considered by the scientist involved in similar lines of research. **Any comment and feedback aimed to be constructive is welcome as well as any approach exploring professional opportunities to be part of.** In this blog I publish pieces of research focused on addressing relevant environmental questions. Furthermore, I try to break the barrier that academic publications very often offer isolating scientific findings from the general public. In that way I address those topics which I am familiar with, thanks to my training in environmental research, making them available throughout my posts. (see "Framework and Timeline" for a complete index). At this moment, 2017, I am living in Spain with no affiliation attachments. Free to relocate geographically worldwide. If you feel that I could be a contribution to your institution, team and projects don´t hesitate in contact me at d.fdezsevilla (at) or consult my profile at LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Also, I'd appreciate information about any opportunity that you might know and believe it could match with my aptitudes. The conclusions and ideas expressed in each post as part of my own creativity are part of my Intellectual Portfolio and are protected by Intellectual Property Laws. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial conditions. In citing my work from this website, be sure to include the date of access. (c)Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD, 2017. Filling in or Finding Out the gaps around. Publication accessed 20YY-MM-DD at
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7 Responses to The breakdown of the Polar Vortex. It happened before so, What would follow? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)

  1. In order to enhance the debate and unify the contribution generated about the present post in several groups at LinkedIn here I introduce those comments. Names are kept anonymously for privacy rights unless otherwise stated by the authors.

    Visiting profesor, at Forest Science Faculty, UANL

    Congrat for addressing this important issues. Though enormous research papers have been published on climate change and agriculture ther is little impact to resolve this issue. Innovation of co-friendly crop cvs. could increase agricultural productivity like cvs. tolerant to drought, salinity, heat stress etc.

    Diego Fernández Sevilla, Ph.D.
    Aerobiologist and Environmental Research Analyst
    (in job search mode worldwide.

    I believe it is a very complicated subject to face, increasing agricultural productivity in an unpredictable environment.
    Innovation towards cvs. tolerant to drought, salinity, heat stress is going to demand resources. Not only for the research involved, but to accomplish the requirements for the new cvs. (pesticides, nutrients, soil structure and space, …) When at the same time there is a big proportion of production being thrown away just to keep prices “under control”.
    The amount of land cover and use that it has been changed throughout the years it is becoming relevant enough to wonder if it can play a part affecting the balance in the ecosystem at global scale. In that case extending mass production practices with new cvs. would walk hand by hand with the instability of the system.

    I see two questions in here:
    * Management of Resources. Resources to produce in one hand, and in another hand, to sell. Sustainable productivity is not longer about feeding populations. It is more about feeding the economy where there is a population willing to buy. At the end of the day does not matter how much it can be produced but who is going to buy it, and the balance between cost of production and price when selling the product. So, how many resources are needed to sustain the situation of whom?

    * Accessibility. Being able to get access to resources is becoming an issue that stretches differences between members of the same society, different societies, countries … The cvs demanded to cope with the increasing demand of production are focused on specific locations for their production. The locations might not be suitable for the best development of these crops but the economic idiosyncrasy (economic treatments and tax and labour benefits, …) dictates for them to be there. And the costs required to produce the new varieties have to be recovered. So, they are not going to be accessible for everyone.

    This is a tricky situation, …
    Here a leave you two links to two different papers which I addressed in my blog about the impact of land surface anomalies and the influence they exert beyond the region in which they occur.

    Visiting profesor, at Forest Science Faculty, UANL

    I agree fully with your propositions. We are working in our individual discipline. As a physiologist I selected salt tolerant, drppught tolerant crop cvs. viz. cotton,maize, sunflower which are found to be tolerant in field conditions. Ther is a necessity of inter-disciplinary research. I worked with the breeders and my technology was well accepted by the breeders and found to be effective by breedrs, of a big seed company.


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