National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Recent extreme Arctic temperatures are due to a split polar vortex

Overland, J.E., and M. Wang

J. Climate, 29(15), 5609–5616, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0320.1 (2016)

There were extensive regions of Arctic temperature extremes in January and February 2016 that continued into April. For January, the Arctic-wide averaged temperature anomaly was 2.0 °C above the previous record of 3.0 °C based on four Reanalysis products. Midlatitude atmospheric circulation played a major role in producing such extreme temperatures. Extensive low geopotential heights at 700 hPa extended over the southeastern United States, across the Atlantic and well into the Arctic. Low geopotential heights along the Aleutian Islands and a ridge along northwestern North America contributed southerly wind flow. These two regions of low geopotential height were seen as a major split in the tropospheric polar vortex over the Arctic. Warm air advection north of central Eurasia reinforced the ridge that split the flow near the North Pole. Winter 2015 and 2016 geopotential height fields represented an eastward shift in the long wave atmospheric circulation pattern compared to earlier in the decade (2010-13). Certainly Arctic amplification will continue, and 2016 shows that there can be major Arctic contributions from midlatitudes. Whether Arctic amplification feedbacks are accelerated by the combination of recent thinner, more mobile Arctic sea ice and occasional extreme atmospheric circulation events from midlatitudes is an interesting conjecture.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |