The Arctic faces weirdly warm weather (by Arctic winter standards anyways) to close out the year thanks to a strong storm tearing across the North Atlantic.

It won’t quite be Key West, but temperatures will be 50°-60°F above normal at the North Pole on Wednesday. That translates to highs reaching freezing — and even slightly above it — making it warmer than a stretch of land from Southern California to Denver.

Arctic warm air

Temperature anomalies in the Arctic region through Friday according to the GFS model. Red represents warmer than normal temperatures.

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December temperatures at the North Pole have only crossed the freezing threshold three times since 1948. Mild temperatures could persist throughout the region into the New Year. The blob of warm air will linger around the North Pole and also affect parts of Siberia.

The Arctic is one of the fastest warming regions in the world and that warming has caused sea ice to dwindle. This warm blast of air will enter the Arctic along the eastern edge of Greenland, an area that’s home to a large chunk of old Arctic sea ice. How this mild intrusion affects that ice remains to be seen. Last winter was the lowest sea ice maximum on record.

 

 

A potentially record-setting storm sweeping across the North Atlantic will be the main catalyst to driving up temperatures in the Arctic. The strong area of low pressure is currently tracking south of Iceland and it will allow mild air to leak into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

But while the Arctic warming is certainly notable, there will also be major impacts in more populated areas.

On Tuesday, the storm will bring hurricane-force winds to Iceland while stirring up 30-40 foot swells. The U.K. is next in line for impacts. There the storm, dubbed Winter Storm Frank by the U.K. Met Office, will have winds gusting to 80 mph and could drop as much as 5.5 inches of rain.

Torrential rains have soaked much of the U.K. for the past few weeks, causing an estimated $8.6 billion in damage and leaving soil waterlogged. Any further moisture could cause another round of flooding, especially in the northern half of the U.K. that bore the brunt of December’s previous rains.

Powerful winter storms aren’t necessarily rare in the North Atlantic (in fact, the U.K. Met Office names them). But this storm has the potential to set records. It’s in the process of rapid intensification — known as a meteorological bomb — and models indicate the storm’s pressure could drop to 923 millibars. The lower the pressure, generally the stronger the storm. If this storm reaches that level, it would be in record territory for the region.

In comparison, Hurricane Sandy bottomed out at 940 millibars though other strong hurricanes have had even lower pressure. Hurricane Patricia reached 879 millibars, the lowest pressure ever recorded in the western hemisphere.