What Winter? Climate Change Alters Weather and Ocean Circulation Patterns

We know this winter was a warm one in much of the U.S. — dozens of cities east of the Mississippi River experienced a “meteorological winter” that was among their top 10 warmest on record with little snow — because, according to climate scientists, the Arctic oscillation has been in an unusually strong and it kept the cold Arctic air trapped up north, Inside Climate News reported Similarly, a new study shows for the first time that world’s major wind-driven ocean currents are moving toward the poles at a rate of about a mile every two years, potentially depriving important coastal fishing waters of important nutrients and raising the risk of sea-level rise in certain areas like the east coast of the U.S.

Why This Matters:  Some of the Earth’s major circulatory systems are being altered by climate change, and now we can prove it.

  • The changes to weather and to the distribution of species on land and in the ocean could be devastating. 
  • For example, the ocean currents study suggests these shifts will squeeze commercially important fisheries, especially in the Pacific Ocean because they are trapped with no more “room” to migrate north, and will also make sea-level rise much worse.
  • This is really bad news because from 40 degrees latitude north and south, sea level rise is already 8 to 12 inches more than in other regions.

And warmer weather may seem like a nice thing, but it also brings with it diseases such as mosquito-borne West Nile Virus, dengue, and Zika, as well as tick-borne Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis.

Moving Gyres

As Inside Climate News explains, there are “[e]ight major wind-driven ocean currents, known as gyres, circulate around vast areas of the ocean” and “these rotating currents shape the weather and ocean ecosystems in coastal regions such as the Gulf Stream along the U.S. East Coast.  It is hard to detect the movement of these gyres, but now with 40 years of satellite data, it is possible to see the changes. And the study’s lead author warns that there is no reason to believe that the changes will slow down or stop in the years ahead.  “As long as the global temperature keeps increasing, this movement of the currents cannot really stop, because the climate is not in equilibrium with CO2 levels. In our lifetime, I don’t think it will stop,” the author said.

Warmer Weather May Explain Tennessee Tornado
Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle used to be famous as tornado alley, but now those storms seem to have shifted east in what is now called “Dixie Alley” — the large number of tornadoes in the southeastern U.S. is associated with above-average tornado counts for the United States according to one NOAA research scientist.  Just this year, In January, there was a rash of 90 tornadoes, 82 of which occurred over the two days of Jan. 10 and 11. According to NOAA, those tornadoes were the result of a strong, spring-like storm weather system that brought heavy rain, and also damaging winds to numerous states across the south and southeast, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  And the lastest tornado outbreak in Tennessee fits this pattern as well.

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