U.S. weather in 2014 is more bi-Polar than ever

The eastern U.S. has shivered from the polar vortex, and the western U.S. has simmered from the solar vortex (I concede: that’s not a real thing).

“Never before have such large areas of the country experienced such radically different temperature extremes as they have so far this year,” says Climate.gov.

Two visuals tell this tale of coastal contrasts:

1. A nation divided


(Climate.gov)

The above image displays how low temperatures have compared to average in 2014, January through July.  The eastern U.S. has witnessed cooler to much cooler than average lows (with a small pocket of record cool weather in southeast Oklahoma) whereas the western U.S. has experienced warmer than average to record warm lows.

2. Separated but equal extremes


(Climate.gov)

The above chart shows the percent of the nation which has experienced either extreme heat or cold in the top or bottom 10 percent of the historical range of values so far in 2014 and in past years.  Notice how the percentage of areas experiencing cold extremes roughly matches the percentage experiencing hotting extremes this year.  Writes Climate.gov:

In most years in the record, extremes are significantly lopsided: a given year’s bar is mostly red or mostly blue, sometimes capped with a small segment of the opposite color. In other words, either some part of the country is experiencing warm extremes or cold extremes, but not both. Only a handful of years have a pattern similar to 2014—in which more than 10 percent of the country was experiencing extreme warmth while a similarly large or larger area experienced extreme coolness.

If nothing else, these visuals shows 2014 is truly a unique year for the nation, thermally speaking.  It wouldn’t have been possible without a stagnant jet stream pattern that’s seldom wavered – allowing these great coastal contrasts to build.  And no, this temperature pattern signifies little to nothing with respect to climate change.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Angela Fritz · September 3, 2014