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How climate change in the Arctic could hurt Boston winters

New Englanders have been hammered by three nor’easters in less than two weeks.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

If you thought climate change was going to turn Boston into a tropical paradise, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

New research has linked the frequency of extreme winter weather in the eastern United States to rising Arctic temperatures.

The research, which comes as New Englanders have been hammered by three nor’easters in less than two weeks, was conducted by scientists from Rutgers University New Brunswick and the company Atmospheric and Environmental Research. It was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

Jennifer Francis, professor of marine and coastal sciences, and fellow researchers found that severe winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern United States when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when the Arctic is abnormally cold. The researchers found the linkage was “most apparent” in the northeastern United States.


The study also found that winters are colder in the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia when the Arctic is warm, Rutgers said in a statement.

“Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern US and warm, dry conditions to the West, while the Arctic has been off-the-charts warm,” Francis said in the statement. “Our study suggests that this is no coincidence. Exactly how much the Arctic contributed to the severity or persistence of the pattern is still hard to pin down, but it’s becoming very difficult to believe they are unrelated.”

Some scientists believe that, with the Arctic warming, the jet stream, which usually contains cold air around the pole, is weakening as the difference lessens between the colder and warmer air, thus allowing the colder air to break out and go south more often.

Francis said in the statement that warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take “wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for a while, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer.”


The study found that “recent observed heavy snowfalls, in particular in the northeastern United States, may be linked to [rapid Arctic warming], though further research is required to confirm the linkage.”

The researchers said that they found a greater probability of extreme weather in the mid- to late winter.

The study was observational, so it proved correlation but not causation, the researchers said.”

Martin Finucane can be reached at