El Nino, Arctic ice melt could mean colder winter in Europe

Reuters News
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Posted: May 07, 2015 11:17 AM

OSLO (Reuters) - Next winter in Europe could be colder and drier than the previous two mild winters, which drove down gas and power consumption, the chief meteorologist at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon said.

Two factors pointed to potentially chillier winter weather - an El Nino phenomenon that could warm sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

"If El Nino is strong in the middle of the Pacific it could mean colder weather in Europe than during recent winters, because it tends to lead to more frequent developments of high-pressure systems which allow Arctic air to extend further south," Point Carbon's Georg Muller said.

"I think a stronger El Nino could materialize this year," he added.

Climate indicators are nearing levels associated with an El Nino weather event.

Last month, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology put the chance of an El Nino, which can cause lower rainfall in Australia and Asia, but more rains in South America, at 70 percent, potentially occurring as early as June.

Another factor that could lead to lower winter temperatures in Europe is the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

In March, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said Arctic sea ice had set a new winter record by freezing over the smallest extent since satellite records began in 1979.

The cap, however, has since then extended close to levels seen in recent years.

"If the Arctic ice cap shrinks more than normal during summer, it increases the likelihood of cold weather outbreaks," Muller said.

A smaller ice cap means more warmth going into the atmosphere from the Arctic Ocean, helping to develop a high-pressure system, which in turn could prevent warmer and wetter westerly flows from coming to Europe.

"If those two factors - a strong El Nino and shrinkage of the Arctic ice cap -- are to materialize, then we are more likely to see a colder winter than previous in Europe," Muller said.

A U.N. panel of climate scientists has linked the long-term shrinkage of the ice, by 3.8 percent a decade since 1979, to global warming and says Arctic summertime sea ice could vanish in the second half of the century.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Dale Hudson)