Climate Corner: Weather on steroids

Aug 26, 2023

Giulia Mannarino

The jet stream is a river of wind that blows from West to East, high up in the atmosphere where jets fly. It is the boundary between the cold air of the north and the warm air of the south. The peaks and valleys in the jet stream generate the pressure centers shown on weather maps as an H or L. The waviness of the jet stream is a feature that effects its movement. In the past 30 years, scientists have observed extremely large bends in the jet streams’ northward peaks and southward valleys coinciding with rising air temperatures. Because polar regions of the planet are warming more rapidly than other regions, the typical north-south temperature difference is decreasing which may be causing a wider, slower jet stream. Certain climate scientists theorize the drastic decline of ice in the Arctic, a direct consequence of human release of greenhouse gases, is linked to these shifting weather patterns.

Atmospheric scientist, Jennifer Francis, PhD, senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center, has done extensive research on Arctic warming, atmospheric vapor and energy. She was among the first to identify the consequences of shrinking Arctic ice and its link to shifting global weather.

In 2003, Francis was part of a group of scientists who published a paper with a stunning conclusion: within a century, the world could witness a summer Arctic Ocean that would be ice-free, a state not seen for thousands of years. They theorized that the loss of Arctic sea ice had caused the jet stream to weaken. Since larger dips in the jet stream move more slowly, Persistent Weather Patterns (PWP) are increasing. That means droughts, heat waves, intense rain and tropical storms now persist in the same location longer than usual.

In the April 2018 issue of Scientific American, Francis authored an article with the title “Meltdown”. Her article stated the Arctic is a “…canary in the coal mine for the earth’s entire climate system.” Francis concluded the Arctic Ocean will likely be free of summer ice by 2040, a full 60 years earlier than predicted originally. As the temperatures of the air and ocean increase; sea ice, permafrost and glaciers/ice caps are all thawing rapidly. This summer there is a lot less sea ice than ever recorded before. Less sea ice, which reflects much of the sun’s energy, means more exposed ocean water, which is darker in color and absorbs more of that heat, making it even more difficult for ice to reform. And this year additional factors, including El Nino, are helping push temperatures to new extremes. However, according to a Yale “Environment 360” article published recently, global warming caused by use of fossil fuels is still by far the leading driver.

On July 29, 2021, in a radio interview, Francis shared information regarding the predicted increases for extreme weather events in the future. If current fossil fuel emissions were not limited, PWP would increase in frequency by two to seven times as many. Going beyond that into the future, the probabilities would get even larger, up to 21 times more likely. If the pace of human-induced climate disruption continues to grow, the consequences of planet warming fossil fuels will continue to produce PWP that grow more extreme as well as more frequent. In early July, an online news article reported that according to Francis, this summer’s soaring temperatures are “almost certainly” the warmest temperatures the planet has seen “probably going back at least 100,000 years.” And although July was the hottest month ever recorded, across the globe, weather records continue to be broken. Global warming is becoming global “weirding” and the resulting shattering of weather records a disturbing new normal.

The Arctic is changing the way scientists said it would but faster than the most aggressive predictions. Although it’s too late to preserve the Arctic as we have known it, there are rays of hope. World leaders agreed to establish a fund to help developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and to protect at least 30% of the world’s land, inland waters, coastal areas, and oceans. The European Union adopted new rules that will put its 27 member states on track to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act, now one year old, puts the U.S. on the path to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. For the sake of the grandchildren, we must build on these successes and ensure that political leaders carry through on these plans.


Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a grandmother concerned for her granddaughter’s future, and vice president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.