Entries in Winter (5)


Is Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Causing Harsher Winter Storms?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- New research suggests disappearing sea ice at the top of the planet is playing a “critical” role in driving colder, snowier winters here in the United States.

Retreating Arctic sea ice, according to the researchers, helps alter the atmosphere in two ways.

First, scientists found that less ice is causing a change in atmospheric circulation patterns, weakening the westerly winds that blow across the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  That weakened jet stream, in turn, allows more frequent surges of bitter cold Arctic air not only into the U.S., but also in Europe and east Asia.

“We have more cold air outbreaks,” said Jiping Liu, a senior research scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, and a co-author of the new study released Monday.

The second factor, Liu said, is that more water is evaporating into the air as Arctic ice at the ocean’s surface melts away.

“This greatly enhances the transfer of moisture from the ocean to the atmosphere,” Liu said.  That humidity, he says, essentially acts as fuel to help supercharge “Snowmageddon”-type storms like the ones that paralyzed parts of the northeastern U.S. in 2010.  A more recent, deadly deep freeze in Eastern Europe left 650 people dead.

“The record decline in Arctic sea ice is at least a critical contributor to recent snowy winters in northern continents,” Liu said.

Liu says the new research may also help connect the dots between human-caused global warming, vanishing ice and our changing weather.

Climate researchers believe that the three-decade decline in Arctic sea ice cannot be explained by natural causes alone.  The National Center for Atmospheric Research, for example, recently found that roughly half of Arctic sea ice decline from 1975 to 2005 can be blamed on the increasing amount of climate-changing greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, that humans are releasing into the atmosphere.

“Is Arctic ice in a death spiral?  Maybe not yet, but it’s in big trouble,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, recently told ABC News, pointing out that the five lowest amounts of Arctic sea ice on record (since 1979) have all been recorded in the last five years.

If Arctic sea ice continues retreating as expected, the researchers said that “may load the dice” in favor of bigger, more persistent future snowstorms.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Balkans Lurch from Killer Blizzards to Destructive Floods

ALEXA STANKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images(BELGRADE, Serbia) -- The Arctic cold is over for now, but that does not mean the Balkans are out of the woods yet. In fact, if the weather gets too warm too fast, the troubles may only be beginning.

Already hundreds of boats and barges have been crushed by cascading ice on the Danube River, and fears are growing that a thaw accompanied by spring rains will cause massive flooding and even landslides. The snow through much of the region is still five times its normal depth.

"We've got a situation that could be problematic," Aleksandar Prodanovic, flood control expert in Serbia told ABC News. "You have to take into consideration March and April rain as well as couple of weeks of winter left."

When a freeze gripped Europe in the end of January and first half of February, a thick layer of ice was formed on the Danube -- in some places as thich as 18 inches. Ship traffic was halted in many areas of Europe's busy waterways.

But now, with temperatures climbing, the ice has begun breaking up around the Serb capital of Belgrade, and damage has already been significant.

In Belgrade, huge ice chunks crashed into hundreds of anchored boats and swept away a number of barges. A couple of Belgrade's most popular floating restaurants have sunk. Now the U.N. is warning that parts of central and eastern Europe, until recently paralyzed by heavy snow, could face another catastrophe.

Margareta Wahlstroem, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for disaster risk reduction, said in a statement in Geneva that there are warning signs that, "destructive floods will add to the loss of life and economic assets" as temperatures rise. In addition to the flood warnings, Serbian emergency officials warned of a risk of landslides in some 2,300 locations, where the heaviest snow has fallen in the lowlands.

In neighboring Bosnia, emergency crews are preparing for a fresh battle with winter when rivers overflow with snowmelt. Bosnians are also being warned of the danger of possible landslides and citizens are asked to contribute to the country's recovery by removing snow around their homes and trying to control of melting water.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


5-Year-Old Avalanche Survivor Released from Hospital

ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images(RESTELICA, Kosovo) -- A 5-year-old girl rescued from an avalanche in Restelica, Kosovo, Saturday that killed her parents, her 2-year-old brother, her paternal grandparents, an aunt, and uncle has been released from the hospital.  The girl had been buried under 33 feet of snow for 10 hours.

A member of the search and rescue team said Amsela Reka was found in the arms of her mother in the snow-covered rubble of her home after hearing her voice and the ringing of a cell phone. Amsela’s mother was also holding Amsela's 2-year-old brother, who died with his mother.

The rescuers cheered and threw their arms in the air when Amsela was pulled from the snow dazed but alive and not seriously harmed.

The family was home when a mountain of snow crashed onto its remote village Saturday morning, covering 22 houses. The village had been cut off from much of the outside world after a month of snow. It took rescuers two and a half hours to reach Restelica, and another hour to dig to the part of town hit by the avalanche.     

Villagers had already been frantically digging through the 33 feet of snow, trying to reach any possible survivors.  Among the nine people reported dead were a married couple and their 17-year-old son.

Amsela, the sole survivor, was wrapped in blankets and rushed to a hospital. Doctors told ABC News she had second-degree cold burns on both hands. As Amsela was leaving the hospital Monday, a funeral was under way for her parents, grandparents, aunt and brother in their village of Restelica.

Searchers continued to look for the body of Amsela’s 19-year-old uncle, but more snowfall and the possibility of another avalanche impeded search efforts.  

Hundreds of people have died during Europe’s two-week-long deep freeze. The Balkans have been blanketed in snow, and many roads are impassable, cutting off remote villages from emergency services and supplies.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cold Weather Continues to Plague Europe; Over 260 Dead

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- While the U.S. basks in relative warm weather this winter, Europe is having one hellacious season.

Reports say a cold snap has left over 260 people dead across the continent, including 122 deaths in Ukraine alone with some temperatures plummeting to below minus 36.5 Fahrenheit. Dozens of people have also died in Poland. The chilling temperatures were also blamed for fatalities in Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia.

Snow, ice and frigid temperatures are wreaking havoc with everyday life in Europe and traveling has turned difficult as airports have shut down and trains are severely delayed.

The unusual cold snap has stretched as far south as Rome, which endured its heaviest snowfall in 27 years over the weekend, grinding traffic in Italy's biggest city to a halt.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Frozen Melodies: At Norway Festival, Ice Music Celebrates Winter

ABC News(GEILO, Norway) -- They are instruments that make the sound of winter; the melodies of a frozen orchestra. Under a full winter moon, Norwegian musicians celebrated the season with instruments made of ice.

Everything about the annual Ice Music Festival in the mountain town of Geilo, Norway is up to Mother Nature.

"For most people in winter, [the snow and ice] has no value, it's just something you want to get rid of," festival creator Terje Isungset said at this year's festival in early February. "But I find a sound, when I find a sound, I try to work with it and create music with it."

Learning to make music from ice has been a journey of discovery for Isungset. It began when he was commissioned to perform at a festival in Norway in 2000 at a frozen waterfall.

"I didn't know what to do, but I had one idea, I wanted to make an ice harp," he said. "I discovered many things that I never imagined, sounds that I never imagined."

The ice is harvested from a frozen lake 25 miles north of Geilo. Ice cutters search for the clearest, cleanest ice. Using chain saws, they cut huge 600-pound blocks. Ice cutter Evan Rugg said they've seen some of the clearest ice ever this year. They've learned that the best sound comes from ice with no bubbles or cracks.

For this year's festival, ice sculptor Bill Covitz -- a Connecticut business owner whose company Ice Matters creates sculptures for weddings and events in the United States -- fashioned two ice horns, an ice guitar and a five-string harp. But the most beautiful sounds, he says, come from the icicle-like chimes and what he calls the "iceophone" -- the frozen cousin of a xylophone.

"Sometimes ice is completely dead, and sometimes, it is fantastic, so it's really up to the winter," Covitz said.

"It is really hard to make music on ice and to work with ice. And what we do is nearly impossible."

And what exactly does ice sound like? "It is impossible to compare to anything," Isungset said.

Using ice's low frequencies, he creates music that is rooted in traditional Norwegian folk, but with international influences.

Performing with nature's vital resource is "a great honor," Isungset said. "These instruments are not mine, I just borrow them from the earth. I give them back after each use."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio