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Frost, snow on Mount Kinabalu?

 | February 7, 2014

Sabah has seen an unprecedented drop in weather temperature due to the annual Siberian winds coupled with rain and a low atmospheric pressure over this region.

KOTA KINABALU: The recent cold streak, and a rumoured sighting of ‘snow’ on Mount Kinabalu has left many wondering  if this is the impact of the climate change that scientist have been warning us about all these years.

According to Meteorological Department, Sabah has been experiencing cold weather due to the annual Siberian winds coupled with high amount of rain due to the wet northeast monsoon and a low atmospheric pressure over this region.

It is unprecedented here. Last month Keningau recorded the lowest temperature at 17 degree Celsius, even lower than Kundasang’s highland temperature of 20 degree Celsius since the phenomenon started on Jan 17.

At one point the average temperature in the city was 25 degree Celsius,  a seven degree drop from its average temperature of 32 degree Celsius.

It was also reported that on Jan 17 a mountain guide at Mount Kinabalu reported to the park office that he saw snow . The temperature on that day had dropped to minus three degrees.

But unfortunately he  was unable to back it up with photos due to dark condition during the day.

Sabah Parks officials are yet to verify his claim.

But a photo on the internet, posted by a climber apparently taken on Aug 18 seemed to suggest some snow was recorded at the summit last year.

On Feb 29 last year ice frost was reportedly seen everywhere, covering trees, staircases and the fields in Panar Laban and Laban Rata, along the route to Mount KInabalu.

The resident cook, Mestianna Eil Inda took photographs of the rare view and posted on Facebook.

Weakened polar vortex

These unprecedented sightings and unusually cold spells have been attributed to the irregularity in the ‘polar vortex’ pattern which happened early this year.

A polar vortex  is described as a persistent, large-scale cyclone located near either of a planet’s geographical ponts.

The polar vortex is a high altitude low-pressure system that hovers over the Arctic in winter.

When the polar vortex is strong, it acts like a spinning bowl balanced on the top of the North Pole.

In early January the polar vortex weakened and broke down , allowing fragments of cold jet streams of air to escape and infiltrate areas in US, Europe and Asia.

Meteorologists in US have known for years that the pattern of the polar vortex determines how much cold air escapes from the Arctic.

Now climate scientists want to know if a warmer Arctic is influencing its behavior.

The Artic Report Card for 2013 showed  there were fewer snow and ice extremes than in 2012.

Many regions and components of the Arctic environment were closer to their long-term averages, but the effects of a persistent global warming trend that began over 30 years ago remained clearly evident.

According to the climatecentral.org website, the impacts of the warming climate on the physical environment during those 30 years are influencing Arctic ecosystems on the land and in the sea.

Global warming, melting Artic

So, what does that have to do with climate change?

According to Science Times website, sea ice is vanishing from the Arctic thanks to climate change, which leaves behind dark open ocean water, which absorbs more of the heat from the sun than reflective ice.

That in turn is helping to cause the Arctic to warm faster than the rest of the planet, almost twice the global average.

Some scientists theorize that as that temperature difference narrows, it may weaken the jet stream, which in turns makes it more likely that cold Arctic air will escape the polar vortex.

Right now, an unusually large kink in the jet stream has that Arctic air flowing much further and afar than it usually would.

Hence the chilly spell in tropical Sabah.


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