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As winter storms continue to wreak havoc in much of the United States, a system is building in the North Atlantic that some weather watchers say could push temperatures in the North Pole to 70 degrees Fahrenheit — or more — above average. The warm Arctic storm looks set to unleash powerful 100-mile-per-hour winds over Iceland and generate ocean swells of 30 feet along the coast of the United Kingdom, which is already coping with severe flooding.
No--record warmth isn't just "El Nino". It's RECORD STRENGTH El Nino + human-caused climate change = dramatically more likely heat extremes.
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) December 28, 2015
The severe weather across the United States has killed at least 43 people and continues to haunt communities in the South and Southwest. Thousands of warm temperature records were broken along the East Coast and record-level flooding could sweep down the Mississippi River in the coming days.
"None of these individual things are unprecedented," said Bob Hanson, a meteorologist with Weather Underground. "But the combination is certainly eye opening, as is the intensity."
Hanson and fellow meteorologist Jeff Masters report that December saw a "phenomenal" 3,164 daily record highs in the United States, while recent reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that from December 20 through 26 alone, 974 daily high temperature records were broken and 256 were tied. In addition, 10 monthly high temperature records were broken and 16 were tied.
The Northeast was blanketed with bizarrely warm weather over the holiday weekend, with the temperature in the normally snow-covered city of Albany, New York hitting a balmy 72F on Christmas Eve, an all-time high for December. On Christmas Day, record highs were set across the Atlantic seaboard, with Jacksonville, Florida reaching 82 degrees and Portland, Maine reaching 62 degrees.
These numbers come in the context of an already unprecedentedly warm year: The month of November was the warmest on record, while 2015 is poised to become the hottest year on record by a significant margin.
Precipitation records were also shattered, with Roswell, New Mexico reporting 12.3 inches of snow on Sunday, handily passing the previous record of 11.5 inches. In St. Louis, Missouri the 4.87 inches of rain that fell on Saturday marked the third wettest calendar day since recordkeeping began in 1874. With more rain on Sunday, the city surpassed its wettest year on record, which was previously set with 57.96 inches in 2008.
"They may see the highest water levels since records have been kept in St. Louis — the highest water levels in 200 years," said Hanson. "River floods are common in the spring, summer, and early fall, but very rarely in the middle of the winter."
Late last week, the Mississippi was already approaching flood stages, and Hanson and Masters expect that a historic flood is now "imminent." The river is expected to crest later this week in Chester and Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, above the all-time record 1993 flood, which, like conditions now, took place during a strong El Niño formation in the Pacific Ocean.
— NASA (@NASA) December 28, 2015
While El Niño conditions have played a role in causing the current record-breaking weather, warm Pacific waters are not the only factor at play in the United States. A large warm air mass from the Gulf of Mexico has moved inland across the southern part of the country, while warm air from the Pacific has entered the same region, stacked on top of the lower warm air mass, explained Hanson
While the National Weather Service warning map remains a color-by-number assortment of alerts, the storm is now set to shift north, towards the Arctic in what environmental blogger Robert Scribbler believes is an unprecedented shift that could push temperatures in the North Pole 70 degrees above average.
"We've probably never seen weather like what's being predicted for a vast region stretching from the North Atlantic to the North Pole and on into the broader Arctic this coming week," he wrote, adding that it all "reeks of a human-forced warming of the Earth's climate."
Source of incredible North Pole "warmth" (35°F, >70° above normal):925mb Greenland cyclone + 1048mb E Europe high pic.twitter.com/LQLnGC0GWL
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) December 28, 2015
The impacts of the warm waters and high levels of moisture in the air have already stretched across the Atlantic, Hanson said, as England is in the midst of its warmest December since the 1600s, which are some of the oldest climatic records available. This warm air mass is now headed towards the Arctic, where it could push the northernmost point of the globe to abnormally warm temperatures.
Hanson doubted that the Arctic would be in the 70s, like New York, "but we will see unusually mild weather for that part of the world later this week."
Follow Eva Hershaw on Twitter: @beets4eva
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