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There's a Heat Wave Going on in the North Pole — And That's Not Good News

A storm system is sweeping through the Arctic, bringing spring-like warmth to the pole and strong storms to the United Kingdom, which is causing heavy flooding.
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We're still waiting for the selfie of Santa in his Hawaiian shirt.

Temperatures at the North Pole may not have topped the freezing mark — there are mixed reports from different weather buoys — but it was an unseasonably warm Wednesday at the top of the globe. The storm system that brought spring-like Christmas warmth, along with deadly floods and tornadoes, to eastern North America swept across the pole with raging winds that sucked warm Atlantic air in its wake.


An international network of buoys sends back data from the high Arctic, and one of those — located at 87.3 degrees north latitude — recorded a high of just under 34 degrees (0.7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday. But another, located a fraction of a degree further north at 87.5 N, only reported 16 degrees (-8.5 C) — still nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit above the usual temperature for the end of December.

"So in summary, the forecast warming was qualitatively pretty good even though temperatures at the Pole didn't reach up to the freezing point," the University of Washington's Polar Science Center noted.

If the Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt away completely, how high would ocean level rise?

— NOAA (@NOAAClimate) December 28, 2015

The freakish Arctic warmth caps a year that's expected to go into the books as the hottest on record. On the Norwegian island of Svalbard, the northernmost permanent settlement on Earth, Wednesday's high was nearly 9 C (48 F). December's weather has been setting records in the United States and the United Kingdom, where the unusually warm Atlantic has been fueling storms that are smashing ashore and causing heavy flooding.

In New York, December temperatures at Central Park never dropped below freezing. In every previous December since 1871, temperatures had fallen below 32 F at least six times, Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson said. And in central England — where temperature records date back to 1659— December is expected to end with a record average high, he said.

"To me, these readings are even more impressive than the record warmth where nobody lives," Henson said.

The North Pole crossed over the freezing mark at least three times in previous Decembers — in 1959, 1990, and 2014, Henson said. This time, temperatures within a couple of hundred miles appear to have approached that point.

Related: Best of VICE News: Polar Bears Are Now Eating Dolphins in the Arctic

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl