“I think there’s potential for nasty surprises coming out of the Arctic.”
Meteorologists and climate scientists were startled Monday after the U.S. National Weather Service confirmed that an extremely rare occurrence of lightning had been observed at the North Pole.
Multiple lightning strikes were recorded by the NWS office in Fairbanks, Alaska between 4:00 and 6:00pm on Saturday, within 300 miles of the pole.
The NWS saw it necessary to release a public statement on the lightning event, which usually doesn’t take place at the North Pole due to icy temperatures.
“This is one of the furthest north lightning strikes in Alaska forecaster memory,” the NWS said.
— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) August 11, 2019
Experts observed storm clouds in the region which, at lower latitudes, would have preceded thunderstorms. Lightning generally happens much further south because relatively temperatures and humidity levels are needed to cause the phenomenon.
The lightning at the North Pole was observed after climate experts have spent weeks recording higher-than-average temperatures in the Arctic. The warming globe is causing sea ice in the region to disappear at a higher rate than ever recorded, as Common Dreams reported last month. The melting ice in turn is contributing to a warmer Arctic.
As the Washington Post reported, the lighting denotes “that the atmosphere near the pole was unstable enough, with sufficient warm and moist air in the lower atmosphere, to give rise to thunderstorms.”
“The probability of this kind of event occurring would increase as the sea ice extent retreats farther and farther north in the summertime,” Alex Young, a meteorologist with the NWS in Fairbanks,told Wired.
Before the lightning was recorded, climate scientists were concerned about wildfires that have been burning in Greenland for more than a month.
“The lightning strikes near the North Pole come during one of the most extreme Arctic ice melt years on record,” the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang tweeted, summarizing meteorologists’ alarm over recent weather in the planet’s far northern region. “There’s currently no sea ice in Alaskan waters, and Arctic-wide sea ice is plummeting to one of the five lowest levels on record.”
The lightning strikes near the North Pole come during one of the most extreme Arctic ice melt years on record. There’s currently no sea ice in Alaskan waters, and Arctic-wide sea ice is plummeting to one of the 5 lowest levels on record. https://t.co/J9rnyYJq9d
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) August 12, 2019
Other climatologists and weather experts were stunned to learn of the lightning event.
— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) August 11, 2019
What?! This is crazy. #Lightning struck about 300 miles away from the North Pole Saturday evening. The National Weather Service says this is the farthest north a strike has been detected in forecast memory! 🥶⚡️ pic.twitter.com/ojt7wfnP6l
— ͏Josh Cozart (@JoshCozartWx) August 11, 2019
UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain warned that lightning strikes in the Arctic could be part of a new pattern of climate changes as the planet’s sea ice continue to melt.
“Scientists already knew the Arctic was going to change much more rapidly than the rest of the world, and yet we’ve still been surprised at the rate of change we’ve been observing,” Swain told Wired. “I think there’s potential for nasty surprises coming out of the Arctic.”
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