One of the most powerful N. Atlantic storms on record builds 55-ft waves and brings winter melting to North Pole

By Tom Yulsman | December 30, 2015 7:53 pm
Massive storm brings melting to North Pole.

The low pressure system that exploded on Dec. 30, 2015 into one of the strongest storms on record in the North Atlantic is seen in this video consisting of enhanced infrared imagery from the Meteosat-10 satellite. The video shows the entire development of this extremely powerful system. Meteorological surface analyses also are included, at the end. (Source: National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center)

A monstrously powerful North Atlantic storm has done the unthinkable: By drawing warm air up from the south into the Arctic, it likely pushed up temperatures at the North Pole today to just above the melting point.

The North Pole unfreezing — in winter? That’s seems like a fitting way to end a year that will go down as the warmest on record, by far.

See also: 2015 will almost certainly end as warmest year on record — and 2016 is now forecast to be at least as warm

One caveat is in order: There is no permanent weather station at the North Pole, so an actual measurement of the temperature has not been taken there. But weather models using data from satellites and the nearest weather stations provide good estimates of what’s happening in the Arctic, including at the North Pole.

Massive storm brings melting to the North Pole.

The temperature at the North Pole, as estimated by the weather models, crept up above freezing on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, thanks to a powerful storm swirling near Iceland. (Source:

In the graphic above, you can see the powerful storm swirling over Iceland, as visualized using data from weather models. The lines indicate wind direction, and colors are indicative of temperature. The green shows warm air being sucked up from south of the Arctic by the storm, and flung on a beeline over Svalbard and on to the North Pole.

As atmospheric scientist Angela Fritz of the Washington Post’s Capitol Weather Gang explains:

On Wednesday morning, temperatures over a vast area around the North Pole were somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and for at least a brief moment, surpassed the 32-degree threshold at exactly 90 degrees North, according to data from the GFS forecast model.

Fritz also reports that a buoy not far from the North Pole recorded a temperature above freezing, supporting the estimates:

Data from the International Arctic Buoy Programme confirms that temperatures very close to the North Pole surpassed the melting point on Wednesday. Buoy 64760 at a latitude of 87.45 degrees North hit a high temperature of 0.7 degrees Celsius — or 33 degrees Fahrenheit — around 8 a.m. Eastern Time.

The freak storm responsible for this mind boggling event derives from the same system that whipped up two deadly tornado outbreaks in the United States, one on Dec. 23 and the other on the 26th. The storm also is responsible for flooding in the Midwest that is likely to reach historic proportions.

Once out over the Atlantic, the storm, dubbed “Storm Frank,” quickly exploded into a hurricane-force low and intensified as it churned northeastward. It wreaked havoc in the United Kingdom, and then took aim on Iceland:

In the Tweet above, from a meteorologist at the Icelandic Met Office, note the wind speed of 46.3 meters per second recorded in the far eastern portion of Iceland. That works out to just over 103 miles per hour.

As it neared Iceland, the storm pushed up gargantuan waves reaching as high as 55 feet:

That’s as tall as an average five or six story building!

Powerful North Atlantic storms that bring warm air north are certainly not unheard of. But this one was particularly powerful. Moreover, the warming it has caused in the Arctic comes on top of the warming caused by human activities. And the Arctic region has warmed twice as much as others. So I think it is safe to say that an event like this would have been much less likely in pre-industrial times.

It will now be interesting to see how the huge amounts of heat pumped into the Arctic by the storm will impact conditions there over the coming weeks. That may be the subject of a future post here at ImaGeo. So please check back.

  • Donald Scott Baird

    needs some commentary and better HD

  • OWilson

    Our planet is truly amazing.

    It takes an infinite number of variables to keep our climate in balance.

    Dry here, wet there, hot here, cold there. Rarely average anywhere.

    A warm blast at the North Pole and a cold blast that recently shattered summer and winter records in Colorado.

    Last year Western Snow Pack all but gone, this year at 136% of normal.

    And so it goes.

    We must be careful not scare the children and the low info folks by overreacting to the natural flow of things.

    • Chip

      Yeah, who knows? It might even be that the high CO2 levels are being driven by increasing AVERAGE global temperatures, not like all these know-nothing scientists think. Boy, won’t they feel stupid…

      • OWilson

        I go with the science.

        It might also be the current weather phenomenon, known as El Nino, which this blog reported a little time ago as the “GODZILLA” of all El Ninos. :)

        A little science for you from today’s news:

        “El Ninos, which emerge every four to seven years on average and run from October through January, are triggered by a shift in trade winds across the Pacific around the Equator.

        However, the 2015 episode is “probably the strongest in the last 100 years,” said Jerome Lecou, forecaster at Meteo-France.

        “There is no simple answer” to explain the exceptional conditions, he added.

        But linking the current mild conditions to climate change is premature, warned Natalie Hasell, meteorologist at the Canadian Department of the Environment, saying that scientists do not base their conclusions “on one anomaly”.

        Yahoo News December 31, 2015

        • Mike Richardson

          We’ve been having a whole lot of those anomalies lately, though, haven’t we? In line with what most of the climate scientists have been warning us about for years. I go with the science, myself, which doesn’t support pretending the globe is not warming up as a result of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Ideological blinders aren’t really conducive to an objective scientific worldview.

          • OWilson

            Mike, the “warnings” are coming from politicians like Al Gore, Obama, John Kerry and their Hollywood supporters.

            We don’t need “warnings” to know and appreciate that the Earth has/is coming out of an ice age. Only low info folks don’t know that it means a gradual warming.

            Meanwhile in the actual science there is a disagreement about the cause and even how much the warming is and has been measured.

            With the recent data wiping at IRS, State Department, and phony waiting lists at the D.V.A., and the current reluctance by NOAA to share its data, not to mention a major enquiry into the Argo Buoy versus antiquated steamship “intake valve” data adjustments, and the satellite versus ground station controversies, you would be wise to keep your powder drive before accepting government lies, without question.

            Let the real scientists sort it all out, and let’s try to keep lying and profiteering politicians as far away as possible.

          • yourpaled

            How many politicians understand science? How many scientists tell us the truth? Many scientists tell us what they’re told to say by those who pay their salaries. Ask the EPA what is all that spraying up in the skies one sees daily.

          • OWilson

            Relax, that’s mostly just pollution from jet setting politicians (they measure their foreign affairs experience by the miles they fly) Hollywood celebs, Global Warming junket attendees, and other high powered folk.

            The little guy will have to be content with riding his bicycle and looking up at them in awe, because they really, really do care about you. :)

            Besides, if you really cared about the planet you’d put that brick in your toilet, as Al Gore suggests, and only flush your number 2 :)

          • Mike Richardson

            There’s actually very little disagreement between the climate scientists, beyond what is manufactured by the fossil fuel industry and its bought politicians, most of whom are on the right. So while you are right to point out hypocrisy in so-called limousine liberals, you may want to keep an eye on those on the right more concerned about the profits of polluting industry than in the well-being of the public, consumers, and the environment at large. One should be suspicious of politicians in general, but all the more so when a particular industry has paid them to undermine science to benefit short-term profits, such that we now have a political party in our country that has made climate change denial a plank in their platform.

          • OWilson

            Nonsense, everybody knows the climate changes.

            They just don’t fall for the latest Doomsday theories of the “fear and greed” exploiting politicians :)

          • Mike Richardson

            No, some apparently fall for the lies of polluting industry and their political mouthpieces, showing themselves to be even “lower info” dupes. Wonder where we could find anyone like that?

          • OWilson

            The reverse button on your IPhone camera? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I was thinking more along the lines of someone with a rather stony faced avatar. Don’t own an IPhone myself. 😉

          • yourpaled

            Does science prove that CO2 is the major culprit? How about an increase in other gases? You know, the ones they are spraying in the atmosphere for decades now. Why are scientists quiet about all of that pollution, only to say that no, those are contrails. Contrails are virtually a thing of the past based on modern technology aircraft engines.

          • Mike Richardson

            Chemtrails. Yep, okay, I figured we’d soon be getting to this stage of conspiracy theories. You sure it’s not just the Reptilians engaged in planetary engineering to warm our planet to a degree more comfortable to them? Or perhaps the denizens of the hollow Earth are behind this conspiracy. That’s all about as plausible as the idea that the vast majority of climate scientists are misleading the public for the nefarious purpose of pushing clean and renewable energy.

        • yourpaled

          Too bad so much of the science is based on computer modelling. Garbage in, garbage out.

      • rrocklin

        I guess we should rely on your professional expertise. Ah, what was your PHD in again.

        • Chip

          Since when did logical thinking require a PHD? I thought they taught that in high school. Not where you grew up?

          Ok, try to follow along. We’ll start with some facts. We can argue about their validity, if you like.
          1) The average temperature of many places around the globe is increasing.
          2) the average level of CO2 of many places around the world is increasing.
          3) there is a very close correlation between average temperature and average CO2 level, historically speaking, which doesn’t exist for other comparisons, like av temp to sunspots, or av temp to earth’s rotational vector.

          There are 3 ways to explain those facts.

          1) when the average CO2 levels change, the temperature level changes as a result
          2) when the average temperature changes, the average CO2 level changes as a result
          3) an unknown mechanism causes both the average temperature and CO2 levels to change in lockstep with each other and nothing else.

          There are valid models, based on accepted principles of chemistry and physics, that say 1) above is true. If the principles of science are not true, your cell phone wouldn’t exist.

          I put forth number 2 as a bit of humerus commentary, just to get the ball rolling. I’ve never heard a serious proposal for how that would work, but if you’ve got one, trot it on out, son.

          Belief in Number 3 is just superstition, as far as I’m concerned.

          Now, are you going to address the assumptions, or the logic, or continue to be a dickless internet troll doing digital prostate manipulation with yer right thumb and trying to type with yer left? Hmmm…?

        • f dx

          Got burnt there, cccockin.

    • Andrew

      What is truly amazing, is that you can’t see what is going on…

  • Sam McGowan

    I cannot believe that Discover could not do a better job of reporting this. The buoy referenced in the Washington Post article is 180 miles south of the Pol. The article didn’t mention a buoy that is only 70 miles from the Pole that showed a high temperature of 30F. Both buoys reported that temperatures rose rapidly, peaked, then fell just as rapidly.

  • OWilson

    Oh and for the low info voter, the North Pole is not “melting”.

    “for at least a brief moment, (the temperature) surpassed the 32-degree threshold at exactly 90 degrees North, according to data from the GFS forecast model”.

    To conclude from this that the “North Pole is Melting”, is not only bad journalism, it is actually misleading.

    Nevertheless the school kids will be cutting out the Dicovery article and headline to paste into their Global Warming Research projects and getting an A+ for it :)



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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