What a scorcher! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that February 2015 was the warmest it’s been in 17 years, but Antarctic sea ice is way above normal for this time of year.
Antarctica was 250,000 square miles above its 1981 to 2010 average during the February, the sixth largest sea extent for that month on record. On Feb. 20th, the south pole’s sea ice measured 1.38 million square miles — the fourth highest summer sea ice extent on record.
Despite fears of Antarctic ice sheets collapsing, the south pole’s sea ice has been resilient even through the Southern Hemisphere’s summer (which is during our winter). Since 1979, February sea ice extent has been rapidly growing at a rate of 5 percent per decade. But more recently, scientists have noted that Antarctica’s western ice sheet is receding, which has stoked fears of increased sea level rises in the future.
In the north pole, things are looking quite different. Arctic sea ice extent was 370,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average for last month, making it the third smallest February since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But the north pole did add 165,600 square miles of sea ice last month, which is only slightly below average for February.
Since 1979, Arctic sea ice extent for February has declined at a rate of 2.9 percent per decade, according to NSIDC data. In fact, it’s this melting sea ice from warmer waters that scientists are saying caused the massive amounts of snow that hit North America last month.
Rutgers Global Snow Lab says the Northern Hemisphere got 230,000 square miles more snow cover than normal for February — the 14th largest February snow cover extent for the Northern Hemisphere. North America saw its 20th largest snow extent last month (kind of makes you afraid to see how much worse it could get).
The city of Boston, Massachusetts was covered by record amounts of snow this year — about 108 inches. February alone got more than 64 inches of snow, obliterating old city snow cover records. But climate scientists have said Boston’s record snow cover is a “harbinger of the future.”
“Climate projections into the future do project that there will be more extreme rain and snow events in the Northern part of the United States,” Jack Fellows, lead climate scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told ThinkProgress. “No single storm is a prediction of climate change, but the projections into the future are for there to be more storms like this.”
“I think it is appropriate to bring up the possibility that extreme events could be driven by climate change,” echoed Brad Marston, a physics professor at Brown University. “It is possible that extreme events like the record-breaking snowfalls in New England, and the connected phenomenon of the ‘ridiculously resilient ridge‘ in the west may be related to climate change, but it is too early to know for certain.”
Most scientists agree that it’s too early to say if record snow extent was caused by global warming, but climate models do say snowstorms could become rarer but more intense in the future.
What Do The Satellites Say?
NOAA’s analysis of weather stations, buoys and boats may have concluded February 2015 was the second-warmest on record, but satellite data says last month was not nearly that warm.
Satellite data produced by the Remote Sensing Systems group shows that Feb. 2015 was only the sixth-warmest on record, being nearly half a degree cooler than Feb. 1998 –which is the warmest on record.
Satellite data from the University of Alabama, Huntsville found Feb. 2015 to be the third-warmest on record, being a little over 0.3 degrees cooler than Feb. 1998.
“February’s global temperatures were highlighted by the contrast in the continental U.S., with cold in the east and warmth in the west, a pattern that persisted from January,” Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “For the second month in a row, Earth’s warmest and coldest temperature anomalies in February were both in North America.”
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