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Hot Alaska, Cold Georgia: How The Shifted Polar Vortex Turned Winter Upside-Down

February 11, 2014

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The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer shows how this cold has moved south, leaving the Arctic much warmer than normal, and parts of North America colder than normal as of Saturday.

Why the displaced cold? The polar vortex has been pulled south by an unusually extreme jet stream, which some scientists have suggested will happen more frequently in a warming world. This leaves the far north much warmer than normal. Consider Alaska.

Richardson Highway, the only road that connects the Alaskan port town of Valdez with the rest of civilization, suffered a series of a dozen avalanches that buried the road 40 feet deep and hundreds of feet long last month (video here). Valdez City Manager John Hozey told NPR“there are slides there every year but not like this”:

What happened was we had really unusual weather. When it got really cold down there in the Lower 48, it got really warm up here and it actually started to rain. Temperatures at the tops of the mountains were approaching high 40s, even 50 degrees, and rain. That just destabilized the snowpack that’s there every year. And people who’ve lived here for 30, 40 years say they’ve never seen a slide like that.

With a road as critical as the Richardson Highway out of commission, residents had to rely on ferry or air travel as the only methods of leaving the town, or to receive fuel and supplies. It took nearly two weeks of crews working around the clock to clear the road.

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