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Increased volcanic activity worldwide may be contributing to all this 'weird' weather

| December 13, 2010 8:00 PM

A subscriber to this column asked me the other day if recent volcanic activity possibly combined with our chilly 'La Nina' event in the waters of the Pacific Ocean to give the Inland North-west, including Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, our snowiest November ever accompanied by record low subzero temperatures.

My answer to this question was that the recent volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, the Philippines and northeastern Russia probably added to the La Nina cooling and extremely wet and snowy November across the Pacific Northwest.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, the active Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador violently erupted sending ash 45,000 feet into the air and super-hot pyroclastic flows down its slopes. Many people were evacuated but, fortunately, there were no deaths. More eruptions will be possible in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. It should be a very interesting winter season to say the least.

On another related subject, massive volcanic eruptions have been recently detected under the Arctic ice.

For a number of years, we've been hearing about the retreat of the Arctic icepack. Many scientists have blamed this melting on "global warming." Since the mid 2000s, temperatures in this region have been above normal on average, while other parts of Canada, the U.S. and even the Southern Hemisphere were experiencing below normal temperatures during a 'global cooling' event.

An article posted on, from our friend, Robert Felix, points to the discovery of a new volcanic eruptions underneath the Arctic ice that likely led to some or most of the melting of the sea ice in the past decade.

This article, "Volcanic Eruptions Reshape Arctic Ocean Floor," published in 2008, described the discovery and pointed out that some of the underwater volcanic eruptions may have been as big as Mount Vesuvius, the massive explosion near Naples, Italy, that wiped out Pompei in 79 A.D.

"Massive volcanoes have been rising from the ocean floor deep under the Arctic ice cap, spewing plumes of fragmented magma into the sea," said scientists who filmed the aftermath a couple of weeks ago.

The eruptions - as big as the one that buried Pompei - took place in 1999 along the Gakkel Ridge, an underwater mountain chain snaking 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) from the northern tip of Greenland to Siberia.

Scientists suspected even at the time that a simultaneous series of earthquakes were linked to these volcanic spasms.

But, when a team led of scientists led by Robert Sohn of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts finally got a first-ever glimpse of the ocean floor 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) beneath the Arctic pack ice, they were astonished.

What they saw was unmistakable evidence of explosive eruptions rather than the gradual secretion of lava bubbling up from Earth's mantle onto the ocean floor.

The natural basin that is the Arctic Ocean is possibly the reason why Arctic water temperatures are rising due to the warming caused by these massive underwater explosions that are circulating out of the basin.

Is it simply a coincidence that the regions of the Arctic Ocean experiencing thinning ice are 'the same regions that are right over these massive undersea volcanoes? We doubt it. The evidence is clear.

We'll have more updates in future columns.


Winter arrived in the North Country nearly a full month ahead of schedule with all-time record November snowfalls in both Spokane and Coeur d'Alene and subzero temperatures that busted many unprotected pipes in area homes. Roads were choked with ice and snow.

But, since then, as of this Thursday morning, Dec. 9 writing, only 'traces' of snow have been observed along with much milder afternoon temperatures in the lower 40s and morning low readings in the Octoberlike low to mid 30s. Such is Camelot's cycle of wide weather 'extremes.'

The current 'January Thaw' in early December, however, won't last very long. I see more snow and colder temperatures arriving later this week into the pre-Christmas 'full moon' phase of Dec. 21. More than a foot of the white stuff could fall at this time in the lowlands with 2 to 3 feet possible in the nearby mountains, more good news for skiers and snowboarders. (I'm certainly glad that I got my snowblower fixed during the current winter weather 'lull.')

While I see a rather snowy last couple of weeks of December, I still believe that the second half of the 2010-11 winter season, beginning in mid January and ending in early April, will have far less snowfall that the first half, especially if the chilly 'La Nina' moderates a bit in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

As I said last week, I may be forced, though, to raise my snowfall projections for both Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, if the last half of this December proves to be quite snowy and Spokane hits 40 inches by Dec. 31 and we reach the 60-inch mark (5 feet). But, only time will tell. Stay tuned.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. E-mail

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