Meteorologists are having a difficult time recalling a more amazing contrast.
The Moscow Times reported that schools in central Russia were forced to close after temperatures plummeted to minus-33 degrees (minus-36 Celsius) this week.
“Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, has failed to see high temperatures rise above 0 degrees Fahrenheit (about -17.8 degrees Celsius) since Nov. 14,” the Weather Channel reported. “Their average November high temperature is about 28 degrees Fahrenheit.”
NOAA’s daily weather records database shows 138 new daily record low temperatures set across Russia since Nov. 1. Dozens of locations saw their previous cold records smashed by more than 10 degrees – some even by 15 to 20 degrees or more.
“Even by Siberian standards, the cold has been pretty incredible,” said Judah Cohen, a forecaster at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, who studies weather patterns in this region.
Cohen said a cold wave in the fall of 2009 had a similar intensity, “though this year the cold is more expansive.”
While abnormally cold conditions have gripped Eurasia, temperatures have soared to their highest levels on record in the Arctic for the time of year.
In recent days, several buoys in the North Pole’s proximity rose above the melting point (32 degrees).
It is the second straight year abnormally mild air has surged toward the Pole. In 2015, in late December, a buoy near the North Pole also eclipsed the freezing mark.
As Chris Mooney and I reported Thursday, the temperature averaged over the Arctic near the Pole (north of 80 degrees latitude) was an “insane” 36 degrees (20 Celsius) above normal. In reviewing historical records back to 1958, we could not find a more intense anomaly.
The warmth has prevented ice from forming over large expanses of the Arctic Ocean and sea ice extent has hit record low levels for the time of year. Mashable’s Andrew Freedman wrote: “Global warming gobbled up a piece of sea ice the size of Alaska and Texas combined.”
The weather pattern responsible for the contrasting zones of extreme weather set up weeks ago and has barely budged.
It all started in October, when snow swept over Eurasia at the fastest clip on record, according to Cohen.
“The extensive snow cover leads to cooling temperatures, and favors the northwestward expansion of the Siberian high-pressure center,” Cohen explained.
Siberian high pressure centers are sources of frigid air and this one has been a doozy. The highest pressure is currently estimated at over 1,050 millibars and forecast to rise over 1,065 millibars, which is extreme.
With the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest air displaced over Siberia, the jet stream has taken on a configuration to direct mild air into the Arctic.
“The record-breaking ridge over Eurasia in conjunction with a low pressure in the North Pacific has enabled warm air to flood the Arctic from both the Pacific and Atlantic,” said Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic.
Model forecasts suggest this pattern will break down over the next week as the Siberian high sinks southwestward into the Balkans, where exceptionally cold weather will move in.
Siberia is forecast to turn less cold, while the Arctic remains much warmer than normal, which in recent times seems to be the new normal.