Extremes Are the New Norm: Why This Cold Spell is Lingering

As a meteorologist, I can’t help but think how many people AREN’T like us: always poring over the latest weather maps, trying to expose Mother Nature’s whims and tantrums; whittling down the complexities of the forecast in a few short, witty phrases with sparkling weather maps on TV; or fielding rants on social media about the cold, the rain and the expectations. But this particular moment in time is different. This is a moment in weather that everyone seems to perk up and take notice.

It's patterns like this - a cold spell that just seems to be inflexible and seemingly endless - that awaken even the most stubborn weather agnostics.

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When it comes to weather, we can be passive or aggressive. You either take it as it comes or question why it is. For those that look for answers, it’s easy to dismiss the extremes we experience as weather on steroids, or more sinisterly, "typical." We can often be worse than Forgetful Jones when it comes to remembering the last time it was this cold/hot/wet/dry, etc.

In fact, a recent study by professors Nick Obradovich of MIT and Frances Moore of Stanford showed that on average that it only takes 5 years for us to perceive weather extremes as "unremarkable." Translated: we’re getting used to being wowed by Mother Nature. Or worse, we’re getting bored of it.

This current, "Will summer ever come?" pattern is no different. Relentless rain, sunless days and chilly temperatures can easily be explained as a slow start to spring. But how many times have we been here? A lot. And is this becoming the norm? Maybe.

You know where I’m going with this, so I’ll show my cards now. It’s likely a result of global warming. More specifically, global warming hijacking our jet stream. We have to use caution here, since it’s easy to be lured to the dark side of climate change by tying short-term weather to long-term changes.

However, the science here isn’t a reach.

It’s been proven that the jet stream has been shown to stall and recycle storms and wet weather for several weeks, if not months. Dr. Michael Mann argued this point with his depiction of the Quasi-Resonant Jet.

pete blog Quasi Resonant Jettt

Without going into the finer points, it’s the reason we may get stuck in what seems like the most dreaded type of weather. More alarming, we’re likely to see more of these in the future. In fact, The National Climate Assessment shows direct ties between many of our recent spats of persistent weather and a warming planet.

But back to the present. When will this pattern release its grip on New England?

There’s where we start to wring our hands. Our current pattern depicts strong blocking in the Arctic with cold dislodged into the Northeast/Maritime Provinces and the Plains. It’s shown a little sleight of hand over the last few weeks, too.


Just when we put two or three days together with sun, a cloudy, cold, wet stretch comes along. These "fake-outs" lure us into thinking the pattern has switched when in reality, it hasn’t. Nor is it expected to anytime soon. As we have seen in the past, wet, cold trends heading into the warm season slowly ease out with time.

They do NOT abruptly end or switch like in the cold season. You can blame that on a normal, slowing jet stream as we head into summer. While we’re seeing this one fade late this month, it could be subtle enough to stick around through Memorial Day.

While that may get a collective moan, there is one shining star in the sky -- our current weather setup has no bearing on the summer. We could easily snap out of this and head into a hot, dry spell.

And yes, the fingerprints of global will be on that too. Extremes really are the new norm.

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