(This story, first published Tuesday afternoon, was updated Wednesday morning.)
As an antidote to the report of minus-88 degree weather in the Siberian outpost of Oymyakon earlier this month, we give you this: The temperature in a settlement just to its east was an astonishing 126 degrees warmer two weeks later.
The mercury in Omolon, Russia, reached its highest January temperature ever recorded Monday: a relatively toasty 38.4 degrees.
But the warmth flooding east Siberia and parts of the Arctic may, in turn, displace the frigid air that is normally pooled there sending it surging south into the north central and Northeastern U.S. through mid-February.
What’s causing the Siberian warm spell?
The mild weather over east Siberia can be traced to the development of an enormous, bulging zone of high pressure over eastern Russia (see top image). Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman called it “one heckuva monster” on Twitter.
Underneath this high pressure zone, models show temperature differences from normal exceeding 50 degrees over a broad area. Weather.US meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted that these temperature anomalies are “off the charts.”
The Arctic seas, surrounding this region, including the East Siberia, Bering and Chukchi have historically low amounts of ice, which is likely intensifying this warm pattern.
The decline in Arctic sea ice has also been linked to similar temperature spikes observed near the North Pole in recent years, when temperatures have surged to the melting point on repeated occasions even in the midst of winter.
A study in the journal Nature concluded the loss of sea ice “is making it easier” for weather systems to transport heat poleward.
Siberian warmth as a trigger for cold weather in eastern North America
Strangely, this unusual warmth in Siberia could trigger a chain of events resulting in deep freeze over central and eastern North America.
As the high-pressure zone builds east over Alaska in the coming week, it will probably force the jet stream to crash south over North America in response — like a seesaw. This will, in turn, probably lead to colder-than-normal conditions over parts of the central and eastern United States.
It’s unclear, however, just how far south and east the cold will penetrate. While model forecasts are advertising repeated Arctic outbreaks into the Lower 48 into mid-February, they may be more fleeting and focused in the Northern U.S. compared to the long duration cold wave between Christmas and mid-January that reached deep into the South.
In any event, the end result is likely to be a warm-West cold-East temperature configuration, which scientists describe as the North American dipole pattern. The presence of this pattern has increased in recent decades and scientists have linked it to the loss in Arctic sea ice.
The Siberian “warmth” in context
Monday’s 38 degree weather in Omolon, Siberia, doesn’t exactly sound like a day at the beach, but consider that it’s 64 degrees warmer than its average high of minus-26 at this time of year.
Omolon is 540 miles east of Oymyakon, which was described as so cold “eyelashes freeze, frostbite is a constant danger, and cars are usually kept running even when not being used.”
In Oymyakon, the forecast high on Thursday is 14 degrees, not quite as balmy as Omolon, but still nearly 60 degrees warmer than its average January high around minus-44, and more than 100 degrees warmer than it was two weeks ago (minus-88).
Many cities in the Lower 48, including Washington, will not see 100 degree temperature swings over an entire year.
Oymyakon has the reputation as being the coldest permanently occupied human settlement in the world. The 500-some residents of Oymyakon and 800-some people in Omolon are probably rejoicing in this relative thaw.