In a warming Arctic, things have changed and are going to change even more in the future. Check out this polar low north of Svalbard one year ago:
No sea ice north of Svalbard in January is unusual in itself, but a polar low to top it off? That’s pretty amazing.
There’s also a new paper out by Elizaveta Zabolotskikh et al.: New areas of polar lows over the Arctic as a result of the decrease in sea ice extent. The title speaks for itself, and their argument is that “new areas of open water appear where mesocyclones can arise”.
The thing is that polar lows can’t form over sea ice, so when the sea ice retreats, new ocean areas with relatively warm water are exposed to cold air outbreaks, just the environment that is most favourable for polar low formation.
One of the consequences is that the Kara Sea (east of Novaya Zemlya) suddenly also becomes prone to polar lows, and this is bad news because this is along the Northern Sea Route (which allows ships to travel from Asia to Europe way faster than through the Suez Canal).
This winter is not much better in terms of “missing” sea ice. Here’s an image from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the US:
There is little doubt that polar lows can form further north than they usually do, and there is also little doubt that this is a portent of things to come.