Odds are you heard at least one person make a crack about moving the Iditarod to Boston this winter. It’s the second year Alaska had a mild winter while people in the Northeast got hammered. There’s a new weather pattern with a funny name that’s contributing to some of the mess.
Last week the National Weather Service unofficially declared this winter as Anchorage’s least snowy on record. Four-thousand miles away, parts of New England also put this winter down in the record books — but for a record amount of snowfall.
Snowy in New England. Not so much in Alaska. To top it off — it’s been like this for two years in a row.
Enter: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. That’s right: “The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”
That’s what some meteorologists are calling a new weather anomaly that’s contributing to Alaska’s mild winters.
The Ridge is more or less a clog in the Jet Stream. Meteorologist Dave Snider of National Weather Service:
“The Jet Stream is the fast-moving river of air high above the planet that drives all the weather around the entire globe.”
It behaves sort of like a river.
“That super-highway was ridges and troughs — high spots and low spots — and in the low spots is where we find the low pressure, and in the high spots is where we find that more stable pattern is. And that stable pattern has set up across the West Coast of the United States (for) a long time during the winter. And that kept us fairly warm,” Snider explains.
Think of the Jet Stream like the Glenn Highway. There’s an accident. Traffic is blocked. Maybe one lane is sneaking by… but things are pretty much at a standstill. Snider Says that’s sort of the atmospheric equivalent of what the Ridge does to the Jet Stream.
“And sometimes when these patterns don’t move; these ridges and troughs kind of stay in about the same spot…. we get the same surface weather for quite some time.”
That’s the “resilient” part of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Incoming weather systems, like storms, either fizzle out when they get to the ridge or the ricochet off it like plinko chips.
“But as long as that ridge is sitting across the West Coast and British Columbia and the Yukon it more or less puts up a roadblock to any incoming weather.”
So what about our friends in New England?
“On a global pattern, if you’ve got warm weather somewhere you’re going to have to have the opposite, or the cooler side of that weather feature somewhere.”
NOAA climatologist Rick Thoman says the two regions are linked. “You can pretty much take that to the bank,” he jokes.
“In the winter, if it’s significantly warmer than normal in Alaska, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be cold in the Eastern Lower 48.”
While, scientists don’t completely understand the nuts and bolts of how the atmosphere governs surface weather, there is emerging consensus that warmer ocean temperatures, due to climate change, are contributing to changes in atmospheric powerhouses like the Jet Stream.
Down on the ground, that means there’s likely more weird weather in the forecast.