It's been a while since we had a first couple of signs of winter weirdness, back in October, when superstorm Sandy took a 90 degree left turn due to a ridge of blocking highs along southern Greenland, and some cold air spilled from the central Arctic over Europe, bringing very early snow to the old continent.
This time the weirdness seems to have hit Russia. Now before people start accusing me of alarmism or hype: I'm only singling out extreme weather patterns, like WACC-y weather, anomalous snowfall on the Northern Hemisphere land masses, outbreaks of cold air, atmospheric blocking patterns...
So is the weather in Russia of the past couple of days extreme?
Here's what RT has to say about it:
Russia is enduring its harshest winter in over 70 years, with temperatures plunging as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Dozens of people have already died, and almost 150 have been hospitalized.
The country has not witnessed such a long cold spell since 1938, meteorologists said, with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees lower than the seasonal norm all over Russia.
That article was released 4 days ago. Here's one from AFP from yesterday:
A deadly cold snap has claimed 88 lives across Russia, officials said Sunday, as Moscow authorities told schoolchildren they could stay home to avoid the frigid temperatures.
Temperatures across the capital region were expected to drop to almost minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) in the night.
Aside from the 88 people who have perished, another 538 people needed hospital treatment, Russian news agency Ria Novosti said, citing a medical source.
The agency said seven people, including a child, had died in the past 24 hours.
An official with Moscow's education department told the Interfax news agency that younger children could stay home on Monday.
Russia has been in the grips of an intense and unseasonable chill for the past 10 days or so. Temperatures have fallen to below minus 50 Celsius in eastern Siberia, and minus 20 in Moscow.
The temperatures are 12 degrees lower than seasonal norms, with such chills not normally arriving until January or February.
The vicious cold snap has also claimed lives across eastern Europe.
Authorities in Ukraine, which has been battling heavy snowfall for weeks, said Friday that 83 people had died of cold, with 57 of the victims found on the street.
Here's another article on Agrimoney.com reporting on consequences for winter grains production. The combination of extreme cold and no (insulating) snow is not good for crops.
I used the NOAA ESRL daily mean composites page to check sea level pressure patterns for the last 10 days and this is what showed up:
That's a huge high-pressure system parked over a very large part of Russia. In a high-pressure system skies are clear and thus a lot of heat gets radiated, lowering surface temperatures. I guess this explains most of the cold snap.
The other thing I notice is that equally big purple-blue inkblot over the Atlantic, a large low-pressure system covering all of the UK. Here's an interesting weather report on the STV website from a couple of days ago:
Heavy rain and strong winds are set to batter Scotland in the run up to Christmas causing travel disruption.
The bad weather is expected to begin on Wednesday night and will last through to Christmas Eve.
[STV Weatherman] Sean said: "In the run up to Christmas the weather will be very unsettled with bands of rain stalling over the country along with strong winds at times.
"The Atlantic is full of low pressure systems, while there is a huge blocking high pressure centred over Russia, which is preventing low pressure from moving into Europe and also prevents the rainbands from progressing eastwards too. This means the bands of rain are expected to stall over Scotland in the coming days bringing an awful lot of rain for many areas and the risk of flooding.
"Because the low pressure is squeezing against this Russian block and the battle is taking place over the UK the winds will be strong. The strongest winds will be felt in the north and east with gale force winds at times."
The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for severe weather for the north east of the country on Thursday. Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) also warned residents of potential flooding in the coming days.
Rain is not good for the UK at the moment. In the past couple of days there has been some serious flooding in south-west England and parts of Wales and Scotland (see BBC for news coverage, here's a video), following months of record-breaking floods all over the UK.
This time the culprit seems to be that blocking high over Russia. And that's just the thing to look for when looking for winter weirdness. Unfortunately I lack the knowledge and experience to give you all the meteorological ins and outs, what the jet stream is doing and everything. But I do know that there's an increasing amount of research into a potential connection between disappearing sea ice and an increase in blocking patterns caused by a meandering jet stream. Perhaps the fact that the Kara and Barents Seas are really slow again this year to freeze over, is playing a part as well:
The image on the left is the Uni Bremen sea ice concentration map for December 20th, on the right we have the DMI sea surface temperature anomaly map for December 23rd. Anomalously warm waters, no ice. It looks even worse than 2011.
Freezing temperatures and many casualties in Russia,
the Ukraine and parts of Eastern Europe due to a blocking high. Massive rains over completely saturated soils in south-west England, Wales and Scotland due to a low-pressure system that can't move because of the high...
Should I end this post with 'Oh, the weather outside is frightful' or 'Walking through a winter wonder weirdness'?
I just hope that folks in the UK and Russia get through this okay, and that their Christmas is still somewhat merry.