More Extreme Weather is Coming Our Way

More Extreme Weather is Coming Our Way

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Hold on to your hat, Ireland, things are going to get wild.

Jet streams are fast-flowing currents of strong air that circle our planet. In Ireland, we can thank the jet stream when it drags warm air from the Gulf of Mexico to us. And we can curse it when it moves around and brings cold air to us from the poles. There are two main jet streams in the world: the one that affects us in Ireland is called the North Atlantic jet stream. The jet streams have been fairly stable over the centuries, but recently, they have been behaving much more erractically.

A team of scientists from the University of Arizona have noticed there are increased fluctuations in the North Atlantic jet stream since the 1960s. These fluctuations coincide with more extreme weather events in Europe. The fluctuations have caused heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding. And they think there might be more to come.

By studying tree rings from trees in British, Ireland and the northeastern Mediterranean, the team teased out those regions’ late summer weather going back almost 300 years – to 1725.

“We find that the position of the North Atlantic Jet in summer has been a strong driver of climate extremes in Europe for the last 300 years,” said Valerie Trouet, an associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

Having a 290-year record of the position of the jet stream let Trouet and her colleagues determine that swings between northern and southern positions of the jet became more frequent in the second half of the 20th century, she said.  “Since 1960 we get more years when the jet is in an extreme position.” Trouet said, adding that the increase is unprecedented.

When the North Atlantic Jet is in the extreme northern position, the British Isles and western Europe have a summer heat wave. All the while, southeastern Europe has heavy rains and flooding, she said.

When the jet is in the extreme southern position, the situation flips: Western Europe has heavy rains and flooding while southeastern Europe has extreme high temperatures, drought and wildfires.

Says Trouet, “The heat waves and drought that are related to such jet stream extremes happen on top of already increasing temperatures and global warming – it’s a double whammy.”

We aren’t the only ones who can expect increasingly weird weather. Extreme summer weather events in the American Midwest are also associated with extreme northward or southward movements of the jet stream. “We studied the summer position of the North Atlantic jet. What we’re experiencing now in North America is part of the same jet stream system,” Trouet said.

This winter’s extreme cold and snow in the North American Northeast and extreme warmth and dryness in California and the American Southwest are related to the winter position of the North Pacific Jet, she said.

So can scientists predict what the jetstream will do in the coming years? Not quite. But Old Moore has predicted a warm and wet year for 2018, so it is best to stock up trendy wellies while the shops are quiet!

Buy the 2018 Old Moore’s Almanac

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