Ag Weather Forum
Bryce Anderson DTN Ag Meteorologist and DTN Analyst

Friday 04/18/14

Jet Stream Research Called "Holy Grail" in Understanding Climate-Change Impact

OMAHA (DTN) -- The dramatic loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean due to rapid Arctic warming has altered the polar-region jet stream and helped to bring on extreme weather events of recent years, including the Midwest drought of 2012, record flooding rains of 2013, and the harsh, cold 2013-2014 winter, according to a climate-change expert at Rutgers University.

Research by Dr. Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, links rapid warming in the Arctic to extreme weather events worldwide. (Photo courtesy Rutgers University)

Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said, in the past 30 years, climate change has dramatically altered the Arctic Ocean, with sea ice volume now just one-fourth of what it was in the 1980s.

These ideas were first presented in a 2012 research paper by Francis and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, titled "Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes."

"The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the mid-latitudes," Francis said. "That difference in warming is the main driver of changes in the jet stream. Our analysis suggested that this was happening."

Francis' research indicates that the rapid rate of warming in the Arctic has reduced the air temperature difference between the far northern latitudes and locations farther south. That reduction in temperature difference, in turn, has slowed down the polar jet stream, creating a polar jet configuration that has large north-to-south waves, with the final result being weather patterns that are "stuck" for longer time periods than in the years before the sharply warmer trend in the far north.

"This winter is a wonderful example" of these extremes, said Francis. "Most of the Northern Hemisphere was much warmer than normal -- Alaska, Scandinavia, the northern Canadian Maritimes. It just so happened that the Midwest and the East (U.S. and Canada) were in the southward dips. But then, look at the winter in 2012, when we had over 3,000 high temperature records. There was a similar pattern, but in a different location."

Francis calls this jet stream re-configuration "Arctic Amplification." When the paper by her and Vavrus was first presented to the American Geophysical Union three years ago, the reaction was, in its own way, extreme. "Someone said that we had found the Holy Grail (of extreme weather); they said 'Why hasn't anyone found this before?' It really opened the door to a new way of thinking," Francis said.

The Arctic Amplification approach to understanding extreme weather has merit, according to Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist. "It certainly goes along with atmospheric theory -- that if the (temperature) differential between the mid-latitudes and the polar region tends to narrow, that it will impact the strength of storm systems if the jet stream relaxes," Dutcher said.

But Dutcher sees the Arctic warming analysis as just part of a broader-scale issue. "The separation of the full impacts of different ocean components is the big question going forward -- understanding the heat content in the oceans and that distribution," he said. "The problem is -- how do oceans distribute that heat and will that modify this atmospheric pattern?"

Francis agrees that scientists have much more to do to understand what fully happens with the trends that are occurring in the Arctic. "It's a noisy climate system that we live in... scientists like to say that we are 95% confident that this pattern is real, but we need 10 more years of real-world evolution to get there," she said.

She has also had some "push-back" regarding her findings. "Most of this has been related to other studies that have not reproduced our analysis ... but nobody is saying that these views are wrong," she said.

As far as a message for farmers, Francis said that the only definite trend she can identify at this time is that more large-scale changes are likely. "We could have a cold winter -- there could be drought -- it depends on where the (jet stream) waves are located in any given year. There are a lot of people working on that," she said.

And, even though the history of this Arctic research on the climate-change-induced jet stream change is still in its nascent phase, Francis is glad to discuss its implications.

"This is a plausible hypothesis. There is evidence that supports it. The impacts are potentially huge. I feel that if I didn't focus on this issue, it would be something that I would regret," she said. "I definitely have stirred the pot."

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

Follow Bryce Anderson on Twitter @BAndersonDTN


Posted at 11:39AM CDT 04/18/14 by Bryce Anderson
Comments (19)
Why are planting dates moving later.
Posted by ELDON HAISCH at 4:07PM CDT 04/18/14
Why do I have ice on the dog dish in April?
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:17AM CDT 04/19/14
Why do we keep listening to these power hungry money grubbing elitist fools ?
Posted by GORDON KEYES at 9:52PM CDT 04/19/14
Bryce, Predict the weather not push the agenda!!
Posted by Unknown at 9:59PM CDT 04/19/14
I agree that the earth is warming and the climate has been changing since the last ice age. I just don't believe man has very much to do with it. A scientist is supposed to have a theory, collect data ,study data, form a conclusion. These globe warming people have formed their conclusion tried to obtain data to support their conclusion, altered the data when it didn't support their conclusion and continue to receive taxpayer money to further their studies
Posted by FRANK FULWIDER at 9:01AM CDT 04/20/14
What we need is a weather station like Fox News where the weather can be sanitized to fit the corporate agenda. Something like its great the polar ice is melting so now Exxon can drill for more oil! Once the polar bears are extinct more tourism will be available to see the land wasted by tar sands extraction! Large hurricanes make for much more exciting news and heat waves of temperatures over 115 f will make for some really good evening footage and of course the new dust bowls winding over Oklahoma and Kansas will spawn some great literature like the mini-dust bowl did in the 30's. Look at the bright side guys and stop listening to those elitist fools. Bryce you're missing the chance of being the "weather Rush Limbo"!!!!!
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 10:55AM CDT 04/20/14
Thanks for this article, Bryce!!! I'm glad somebody is concerned and studying climate change.
Posted by Jo at 7:04PM CDT 04/20/14
Jay you really should listen to Fox News it is the only place you get both sides of the news. The main stream media will only give you the leftist side of a topic or will ignore or distort it. CBS had one of their top investigative reporter quit because they would kill or water down her report to point it meant nothing. Sharyl Attkinsson the woman had the guts to tell the world just what goes on in most of these supposed news outlets. You change your story to fit their narrative or it is not reported. It is pretty much liberal propaganda.
Posted by GORDON KEYES at 11:14AM CDT 04/21/14
Who says I get my news from CBS? I go to the BBC,, just because Fox says "fair and balanced" you think they are?
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 11:23AM CDT 04/21/14
Jay, I bet you listen to NPR all day long too... I would contest that, why should we be the ones that have to make sacrifices to "Save the Planet", when China and other up and coming societies just make the matter worse. I don't see the point in us spending trilliions of dollars on renewable energy that is unsustainable, so we have to ship our "dirty oil and coal" to China and they are burning it instead of us. Does that make sense to rest of you?? If it does, you better wake up and open your eyes, and start to look at the world how it is, not how you want it to look. That oil and coal that lefties don't want us to burn is getting burned someplace whether you like it or not. That is just how it is and how it is going to be. Now why can't we be taking advantage of that ourselves??
Posted by RJZ Peterson at 1:49PM CDT 04/21/14
The Climate Change deniers sound pretty much like the 15th Century Flat Earth Society advocates. We know how that ended. More bullets please for all you messenger shooters. FYI, a good TV watch is currently the Showtime "Years of Living Dangerously". GOP Governor Schwarzenegger is one of the show's principles. He is examining the effect of climate change on the dramatic increase in wildfires by joining a U.S.Forest Service Hot Shot crew in Montana. The California wildfire season is now a year around phenomenon. He saw this first hand as wildfires ravaged California. He admits he was a skeptic. Not anymore. Whether you agree with his political or environmental views is certainly your privilege. However, the information is based on sound science. and empirical examination. This show is an eye-opener for some of us skeptics.
Posted by T JAMES DAVIS at 1:57PM CDT 04/21/14
What I'm incredulous about is the fact that there actually are people that are so naive, so idealistic, and so gullible to think that there is no big money agenda on the "green" energy side. Big money is behind Big Oil? YA THINK? Wow. The sky is blue too. But when it comes to Algore and other leftist puppet masters, oh no, they are as pure as the driven snow. Once again, you sheep on the left, what it is is the last scene in Animal Farm. If you are lucky, you will someday realize it.
Posted by Brandon Butler at 2:12PM CDT 04/21/14
The climate has always changed, for 4.5 billion years. Probably man has something to do with it but possibly not a lot. One readable history of it can be found in the following book: The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection by Willie Wai-Hock Soon, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Steven H. Yaskell, 2003, reprinted 2007. Extremely interestingly, the sun's just past 11 year magnetic cycle was the biggest dud in over 150 years and the magnitude of the next one is highly unknown. Beliefs might be useful on Sundays, but for political validity, facts are needed.
Posted by H. Clay Daulton at 2:39PM CDT 04/21/14
Volcanoes have much more greenhouse gas than anything else.
Posted by Morris Drummond at 4:58PM CDT 04/21/14
The whole volcano-versus-society subject has been addressed here before--but once again--Volcanoes do NOT generate more greenhouse gas than produced by society. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world's volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 BILLION tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide. Despite the arguments to the contrary, the facts speak for themselves: Greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes comprise less than 1--one--percent of those generated by today's human endeavors.
Posted by Bryce Anderson at 5:38PM CDT 04/21/14
You mean somebody finally figured out the SUN might have something to do with climate change ? I am truly impressed ! P.S. don't tell Al GORE he to much fun to watch.
Posted by GORDON KEYES at 5:39PM CDT 04/21/14
Volcanoes do produce tremendous greenhouse gas emissions. Volcanoes are a uncontrollable force of nature. Burning of tropical rainforests are controllable forces of man. The Brazilians have greatly curtailed the burning of their forests and that is a good thing if you are a U.S. soybean grower. If you are an Indonesian palm oil producer, reducing soybean production anywhere is a good thing for their edible oil production in a global economy. If tropical rain forests, in Indonesia, are burned the amount of carbon released into atmosphere from forests that have been carbon sinks since before man has existed is definitely a losing proposition because the palm plantations cannot replace the carbon storage capacity of mother nature. Deforestation by burning the vegetation that is storing carbon releases as much greenhouse gas emissions as all auto and truck emissions in the world per year. People, like us farmers, who proclaim that "sound science" should be the dictum of progress if we are using new and effective chemical can't have it both ways regarding climate change if the facts are "sound science" based. "Sound science" is a good agenda for all us farmers.
Posted by T JAMES DAVIS at 5:55PM CDT 04/21/14
Good grief people! The only thing we can be sure of is that our weather is unpredictable and it is going to change regardless of the bs people try an preach. Mother Nature will have the final say. Let us not forget that no mater how greedy we are or how many acres there is to plant.
Posted by GWL 61 at 7:10PM CDT 04/21/14
Some "fun facts" for the volcano conservatives and those that don't understand the impact humans have on climate,,,,,world coal usage has increased 60% from 2000 at 4,600 million tons per year to 7,200 million tons per year. Oil usage is about 90 million barrels per DAY. Now if we burned all this stuff at that rate on one spot on the earth everyday of the year, 24/7 would that convince any of you that there is a problem? Of course not!
Posted by Jay Mcginnis at 7:20AM CDT 04/27/14
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