Have you been asking yourself: where did winter go this year? Well, it seems a natural question to ask, considering the uncommonly warm winter much of the United States and Canada have been experiencing. However, this winter and the warmer weather it brings, isn’t due to climate change; it’s a bit simpler than that.
Suspect #1: The Jet Stream
That’s right, the Jet Stream. If you’re not familiar with what the Jet Stream is, here’s a simple definition: The Jet Stream is a fast, high-altitude, westerly wind. As shown in the image to the right, there are two types of jet streams at work in both the northern and southern hemispheres. These two types of jet streams, polar and subtropical, play a large role in weather patterns worldwide.
Now, when you ask yourself: what has caused this bizarre winter, you have the answer—the Jet Stream. Apparently, this year the Jet Stream has played farther north than it has in a while, and we’re talking the polar jet stream in this case. Usually this time of year, the polar jet stream dips south and brings with it that freezing arctic air. But with the polar jet stream maintaining more northerly latitudes over the last few months, it has allowed the subtropical jet stream to move farther north than it usually is this time of year—bringing with it the warmer, subtropical air.
What Does This Mean In the Long Run?
Naturally, the next question to follow would be something to the effect of next winter’s forecast. Can we expect this trend to follow into next year? Well, it doesn’t take a meteorologist to tell you that weather can be a very difficult thing to predict. For all we know, next winter could be the coldest one yet. The key, then, is to be prepared. As a case in point, in 1962 a huge artic blast (via a plunging polar jet stream) dipped into the northwestern US—dropping temperatures as low as -40° F in the southwestern United States. Evidently, this cold blast eventually caused snow fall on the Gulf Coast. Now who would have predicted that?
1962 was a year that set many records, but the truth remains, and it’s as pertinent today as it was then. Whenever winter approaches, it’s best to play it safe. Plan for the worst, and if the weather throws a surprise your way in the form of warm temperatures, then you’ll still be ready for next winter. Besides, while winters like 1962’s are rare, what’s even rarer is a winter like 2015.