‘We can’t even imagine such a thing’

An arctic wind is causing an extremely cold and white Christmas in several states of the US and Canada with snow, strong winds and extreme, sudden drops in temperature. A temperature of -52 degrees Celsius has been measured in the Canadian Rabbit Kettle, deadly for humans and animals. But especially the sudden drops in temperature, sometimes several degrees per minute, are unprecedented.

Such a ‘bomb cyclone’, as the US media has called the winter storm, is highly exceptional. According to the US Weather Prediction Center, it “only occurs every one or two decades.”

Yet extreme weather in North America is more common than in our country, says weather forecaster Frank Deboosere. “An icy wind entering the country via the North Pole is not hindered by barriers such as mountain signs or seas, which have a dampening effect. As a result, that wind can penetrate deep into the land. A high-pressure area in the west and a low-pressure area in the east, where the wind rotates in opposite directions, is the perfect situation to amplify this phenomenon. As a result, there are now those sudden drops in temperature, the sharpest in decades. In some places, the temperature even drops 12 degrees in 2 minutes.”

Dangerous situations

And that creates life-threatening situations, according to Deboosere. Just as some 110 million Americans are getting ready to visit relatives for Christmas. Airlines have already had to cancel about 5,000 flights as a precaution. But those who travel by car are also more on their guard. “Anyone who does not keep his engine running at all times in these circumstances risks getting stuck. For a human body, this can be life-threatening. We simply cannot imagine such sudden temperature drops.”

President Joe Biden also warns the Americans of the dangers. He asks to follow the advice of local authorities and not to take any risks. “It is dangerous and threatening, from Oklahoma all the way to Wyoming and Maine. This is not like a day of snow as you knew it as a child, this is serious,” Biden said.

This extreme cold seems contradictory, now that it appears that numerous heat records have been broken again this year. “But that doesn’t have to contradict each other,” says Deboosere. “We currently record seven heat records for every cold record. An Elfstedentocht near our northern neighbors is still perfectly possible. But due to global warming, such colder periods are simply more noticeable.”

However, we should not expect this ‘bomb cyclone’ or other arctic storms to penetrate our region. “Here in Western Europe we do have the geographical barriers that they don’t have in North America. We are closer to the sea, have the Alps nearby and are more often confronted with westerly winds. All this ensures that our winters are rather mild and wet.”

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