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Posted at 04:27 PM ET, 02/09/2012

Europe cold worst in decades, U.S. stays mild (PHOTOS)

Temperatures compared to average over the first 5 days of February across the globe. ( UK Met Office )
It’s a tale of two continents. While temperatures have remained above normal all winter long in the U.S. and North America, much of Europe recently flipped from a mild pattern to its coldest in 20 years.

The cold in Europe

Consider all of the following...

* At least 450 deaths have been blamed on the cold weather (Reuters), mostly in central and eastern Europe - a large fraction in the Ukraine

* Wunderground said the cold snap is the most severe since 1991; Reuters reported it’s the worst February cold snap in 26 years

* Much of the Danube river is iced over, halting or restricting navigation in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Austria; Bulgaria set a new record low of -28.6 C (-19.5 F) this morning (Reuters)

A barge lays on the border of a frozen river in the harbour of Duisburg, western Germany, on February 8, 2012. The cold snap has gripped Europe for more than a week. (PATRIK STOLLARZ - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
* The cold is straining power supplies in Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Germany, and Austria (Reuters, Voice of America)

* 93 stations from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute reported record low temperatures on February 5 (Bloomberg via Climate Central)

* Up to 8” of snow fell in Rome last weekend, the most since 1986 (AP)

* Paralyzing snow has cutoff entire villages in northern Italy, Serbia and Bosnia

* More snow and extreme cold is expected in northern Italy into the Balkans Friday into the weekend as a storm drops southward. The Toronto Star reports “Rome’s mayor has ordered schools in the Italian capital closed on Friday and Saturday as more snow and frigid temperatures are expected in the forecast.”

* The cold and snow extended into Northern Africa last weekend: 2-3” of snow fell in Tripoli, Libya, perhaps the most since 1956 (Wunderground); 4” fell in Algiers, Algeria - the first snowfall in 8 years, and the most in decades (Reuters)

The mild air in the United States

Now consider this...

* January was the 4th warmest on record (since 1900) and 3rd least snowy in the last 46 years (NOAA)

* The Great Lakes have much below average ice cover, especially Lake Erie

* For only the 2nd times in 106 years of records, Chicago has yet to drop below 5 F. (ChicagoWeatherCenter)

* Almost the entire mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. has received less than 50% of its average annual snowfall, with many observing stations well less than 30% (Capital Climate)

What’s the cause of the pattern?

The UK Met Office offers a nice explainer for the extreme cold in Europe and it relates to an area of “blocking” high pressure that has set up over Scandinavia and northwest Russia:

Easterly winds on the southern edge of this system has transported cold continental air westwards, displacing the more usual mild westerly influence from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the British Isles.

A ‘blocking anticyclone’ [or high pressure area] can be thought of being like a very large boulder in a stream. This boulder acts like a damn, stopping the flow of the stream. In this instance a block stops the more normal westerly flow that brings milder conditions, allowing colder conditions to win out from the east.

For the large parts of North America to get cold, we need such a ”block” to set up over Greenland. That has not happened thus far this winter.


Climate Central: What’s Causing the Deadly Cold in Europe?

Deadly cold snap grips Europe, snow strands thousands in Serbia, Bosnia

Tourists walk near the Ottoman-era Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, seen in the background, in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. (AP)

People play in the snow in front of the Colosseo on February 4, 2012 in Rome. Heavy snowfalls in Rome caused the normally mild-weather Italian capital to grind to a halt. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A man walks under an umbrella during snowfall in Algiers February 4, 2012. At least 10 cm (four inches) of snow fell on Saturday in the Algerian capital, on the northern tip of Africa. The snowfall, the first in the city in eight years and the heaviest in decades, brought the Mediterranean port to a standstill. (ZOHRA BENSEMRA - REUTERS)

A small boat passes on a canal covered with ice on February 6, 2012 in Venice. Temperatures fell to minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) in Milan on Monday as 59,000 households remained without electricity in Italy and officials declared a gas supply emergency. (MARCO SABADIN - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

By  |  04:27 PM ET, 02/09/2012

Categories:  Latest, International Weather, U.S. Weather

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