Snow cover is disappearing, sea ice is melting and fires, including possible ‘zombie’ blazes, are raging.
Siberia is in the throes of a heat wave that would be considered warm even by the standards of those living outside the Arctic Circle.
In Washington, for example, the temperature has been stuck in the 60s all week, reaching a maximum of 73 degrees Thursday. Yet several stations in North Central Siberia, including areas near or above the Arctic Circle, are seeing temperatures climb well into the 80s.
On Friday, the town of Khatanga, Siberia, located well north of the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 78 degrees, some 46 degrees above normal. The typical maximum temperature for the day at that location is 32 degrees. The town obliterated its previous record high for the date of 54 by some 24 degrees and its monthly record of 68 by about 10 degrees.
The Siberian warmth in May is not a fluke event, either; instead, it’s been a consistent feature since the winter. Temperature departures from average in Europe and Asia have helped push global average surface temperatures to record highs this year, and on global temperature maps, these regions stand out as splotches of crimson red.
The warmth in Siberia is already having repercussions on Arctic ecosystems, with unusually large Siberian wildfires already burning this year, snow cover plummeting unusually quickly and sea ice cover in areas such as the Kara Sea, which lies to the north of Central Siberia, at a record low for the date, having begun its seasonal melt more than a month earlier than is typical.
According to Zack Labe, a graduate student at the University of California at Irvine who researches Arctic climate change, what has recently been taking place in Siberia has been extraordinary.
“Although Siberia is known for wild temperature swings, the persistence and magnitude of warmth over the region so far this year has been astonishing,” he said via email. “This week is an example of an extreme event, with summer-like temperatures over parts of Western Siberia thanks to a strong upper level ridge. We can already see this reflected in snow cover data, as there are large negative departures of snow extent stretching across the entire Siberian coast of the Arctic,” he said.