Turn on practically any storm-driven local TV weather forecast these days, and chances are you’ll encounter more and more references to the “jet stream.”
But why? And what exactly is the jet stream, and what, if any, is its connection to extreme weather events, be they drought, extreme heat, wildfires, or flooding?
“It’s hard to find examples of major weather events from last year that aren’t related to the jet stream,” PBS producer and host of “PBS Terra” Maiya May says in a new Yale Climate Connections video, produced by independent videographer Peter Sinclair.
Climate models may be “too conservative” on impacts of the jet stream considering current observations, says Columbia University scientist Kai Kornhuber, pointing to recent record-breaking extreme weather events.
“The observational evidence for crazier jet stream activity has certainly been strong,” Yale Climate Connections meteorologist Jeff Masters, a cofounder of Weather Underground, says in the video. “We’re seeing some very unusual activity in the past few decades.” Siting recent research drawing links between jet stream perturbations and severe weather events, Masters adds that theoretical and computer modeling evidence remains limited, making the subject still “a tough nut to crack.”
Among the puzzles being addressed by researchers is the extent to which climate change may be influencing what Nebraska state climatologist Martha Shulski calls “wavey” jet stream behaviors and more polar air outbreaks. Other experts chime in on the range of known, unknown, and suspected issues involving the jet stream, climate change, and global weather patterns.