Meteorologists said the storm centered near Iceland on Wednesday was expected to push formerly subtropical Atlantic air toward the North Pole, making the Arctic far warmer than usual winter temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Temperatures at the winter-darkened North Pole Wednesday lay only around freezing point, or 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Norway's Spitzbergen archipelago, within the Arctic Circle, was experiencing 3 degrees plus.
Iceland's Meteorological Office forecast temperatures from zero up to five degrees Celsius, combined with extreme winds and high seas.
To the east, a huge high pressure zone sat over Poland and Russia, leaving continental Europe relatively dry but drenching Britain, which faced more rainfall and high seas on the fringe of "Storm Frank."
Weather experts said the winter storm was historically unusual because of its very low air pressure coupled with high atmospheric jet streams. Similar temperature anomalies have also developed recently over northern Canada and Siberia.
On Monday, Washington Post weather expert Jason Samenow had described the impending North Atlantic storm as "mind boggling."
"The surge of warm air making a beeline towards the North Pole is astonishing," Samenow wrote.
Environmental blogger Robert Schibbler said the storm system coupled with two other powerful North Atlantic low pressure systems illustrated a "truly extreme" situation.
The anomaly, Schribbler said, "reeks of a human-forced warming" of the Earth's climate.
Samenow added, however, that climate scientists still debated to what extent causal links could be drawn from warming directly to such storms.
El Nino also to blame?
Another NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch said the El Nino weather phenomenon of exceptional sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific was possibly causing spillover effects in the Atlantic and even Europe.
At the Paris UN climate summit in early December, rich and poor nations reached a deal widely seen as the most important climate roadmap since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
It commits signatories to rein in rising levels of exhaust gases, especially carbon dioxide, from burning fossil fuels and foresees investments in new technologies using renewable sources such as solar and wind energy.
Arctic warming at double globe's pace
In mid-December, the USA's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said atmospheric warming was happening in the Arctic at more than twice the rate compared to anywhere else in the world.
"We know this is due to climate change," said NOAA chief scientist Rick Spinrad.
In recent years Arctic Sea ice, which normally reaches its peak coverage in the North Hemisphere's peak winter month of February, had had its lowest extent since records began in 1979, the NOAA added.
Greenland's melting ice sheet, a potentially sizeable cause of global sea level rises, lost mass between 2003 and 2010 at twice the rate of the whole 20th century, the journal Nature reported two weeks ago.
Sea ice retreat
Sea ice retreat is seen a major threat to ecological systems, including the dependency of species such as walruses on ice layers for mating and giving birth.
Exceptionally widespread plankton blooms had occurred in Arctic coastal areas, including in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, the NOAA said.
Subarctic fish were on the move northward into Arctic waters, it added, posing risks for smaller Arctic fish from unfamiliar predators but a boon for Greenland fishermen.
In the 1980s, older, thicker ice made up half of the Arctic's ice sheet. At the close of last winter in March, "first year ice" made up 70 percent of the ice pack.
The warming trend made last month the warmest November in 136 years and marked seven consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures.
ipj/msh (dpa, AFP, AP)
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