As predicted on’s Climate Watch last fall, this is proving to be a winter of extraordinary fury both in the United States and Europe. England is experiencing the worst flooding in 250 years, and winter records are being broken all across the United States. Meanwhile the Austral summer is entering the record books because of its extreme heat. But why? The reason lies in an unprecedented and unexpected change in atmospheric circulation that has caused dramatic strengthening of the Pacific Trade Winds at a time when they would normally be at a seasonal low.

The winds speeding across the ocean surface have caused it to absorb atmospheric heat. At the same time, an unusually warm arctic and weakened flow in the Gulf Stream have caused the polar vortex to move south into the upper part of the northern hemisphere. This, coupled with a powerful flow of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico across Texas, the Southeastern US and into the Middle Atlantic states has created a situation where unprecedented winter storms are possible, that could have catastrophic results.

While it is still difficult to tell why the transfer of heat to deeper ocean levels has suddenly become more efficient than normal, one possibility is that the decline in the amount of solar energy reaching Earth is responsible. There is increasing evidence that the sun is entering a quiet period similar to the one that caused the Little Ice Age, which extended from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries. If this is the case, then global warming models will prove to be inaccurate, but as yet it is impossible to predict whether or not the ‘quiet sun’ of the past four years is a transient phenomenon or the beginning of a new cycle.

To read more about the strengthening Pacific Trade Winds, click here.

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