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The National Weather Service in Fairbanks, Alaska recorded lightning within 300 miles of the North Pole over the weekend. (Photo: iStock/Getty Images Plus)

'This Is Crazy': Scientists Alarmed as Lightning Near North Pole Seen as Latest Sign of Climate Breakdown

"I think there's potential for nasty surprises coming out of the Arctic."

Julia Conley

Meteorologists and climate scientists were startled Monday after the U.S. National Weather Service confirmed that an extremely rare occurrence of lightning had been observed at the North Pole.

Multiple lightning strikes were recorded by the NWS office in Fairbanks, Alaska between 4:00 and 6:00pm on Saturday, within 300 miles of the pole.

The NWS saw it necessary to release a public statement on the lightning event, which usually doesn't take place at the North Pole due to icy temperatures.

"This is one of the furthest north lightning strikes in Alaska forecaster memory," the NWS said.

Experts observed storm clouds in the region which, at lower latitudes, would have preceded thunderstorms. Lightning generally happens much further south because relatively higher temperatures and humidity levels are needed to cause the phenomenon.

The lightning at the North Pole was observed after climate experts have spent weeks recording higher-than-average temperatures in the Arctic. The warming globe is causing sea ice in the region to disappear at a higher rate than ever recorded, as Common Dreams reported last month. The melting ice in turn is contributing to a warmer Arctic.

As the Washington Post reported, the lighting denotes "that the atmosphere near the pole was unstable enough, with sufficient warm and moist air in the lower atmosphere, to give rise to thunderstorms."

"The probability of this kind of event occurring would increase as the sea ice extent retreats farther and farther north in the summertime," Alex Young, a meteorologist with the NWS in Fairbanks, told Wired.

Before the lightning was recorded, climate scientists were concerned about wildfires that have been burning in Greenland for more than a month.

"The lightning strikes near the North Pole come during one of the most extreme Arctic ice melt years on record," the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang tweeted, summarizing meteorologists' alarm over recent weather in the planet's far northern region. "There's currently no sea ice in Alaskan waters, and Arctic-wide sea ice is plummeting to one of the five lowest levels on record."

Other climatologists and weather experts were stunned to learn of the lightning event.

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain warned that lightning strikes in the Arctic could be part of a new pattern of climate changes as the planet's sea ice continue to melt.

"Scientists already knew the Arctic was going to change much more rapidly than the rest of the world, and yet we've still been surprised at the rate of change we've been observing," Swain told Wired. "I think there's potential for nasty surprises coming out of the Arctic."


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