The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that Manitoba's Winter Roads network in the centre/north part of the province is thawing four weeks early this year:
This year's mild winter has forced the Manitoba government to close its winter road system earlier than usual. Some of the roads, which are used to transport goods to remote communities, were open for less than a month.
To put this in a geo-context, here's an image of a Google Map of the northeast quarter of the North American Great Plains and the Great Lakes Lowlands. Chicago is near the bottom of the map; the red Google marker indicates Wrong Lake Manitoba, which is 300 km north of the capital Winnipeg.
*where singer songwriter Neil Young played in his first band*
A group of Truckers is stranded near Wrong Lake in the north east of the province.
Again from the Winnipeg Free Press:
At least half a dozen semi-truck drivers are stuck in the mud and one 52-year-old driver has been airlifted to safety after an early spring thaw left the freight haulers stranded on a winter road near Bloodvein First Nation.
The province shut down the seasonal transport road linking many northern First Nations last Wednesday, after warm temperatures made maintaining the vital winter routes impossible. A convoy of trucks was dropping off loads of groceries and gravel crushers to the Island Lake communities of Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point at the time of the closing, and didn't depart for Winnipeg until late Friday evening.
[...]Earlier this week the Manitoba government asked for Ottawa's help to airlift critical goods to northern communities after the early shutdown of the winter road system. About half of the winter roads opened by Feb. 1, with the rest opening Feb. 12. Normally, the road system -- temporary routes created over frozen swamps, muskeg and even lakes -- is open for about eight weeks.
[,,,]A state of emergency has been declared by two northern First Nations -- Shamattawa and Red Sucker Lake -- that depend on goods arriving on winter roads.
Northern Grand Chief David Harper, of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, expects other communities to soon call states of emergency. His organization is assessing the communities to find out how much their supplies fell short this year.
Harper said the winter roads are used to truck in non-perishable food and building supplies, as well as fuel to heat homes and operate vehicles, boats and planes.
MKO is supporting the province's call for the federal government to help alleviate costs to fly in urgently needed goods.
Why this Year?
Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released some climate data they've crunched.
In this map, surface temperature data from 1951 - 1980 is compared with data collected for 2000 - 2009. These data points are really good - GISS is error-ing way on the conservative side here.
*since the 'teabaggers' or 'teacuppers' or here's a new one, 'teapotters' (tempest in a), have made carbon emission climate change denial-ism one of their psycho-babble talking points*By choosing recent data as the base line in this map, we are confident in the arctic numbers - which are sparse from earlier; the long range bomber developed during WW ll changed that. The data source is likely the military installations placed there as part of the DEW LINE early warning system against a Soviet Nuclear attack (GISS doesn't say - it's a secret).
Notice the red spot above the Alaskan archipelago. Scientists have recorded data that describes El Niño and La Niña effect in the Pacific that sees surface temperatures in the Ocean radically change, which in turn changes weather patterns over the Pacific. When those patterns are forced into The Rocky Mountain chain by the spinning of the planet they run up the west coast of North America. When they reach Alaska they fork - some continues north into the arctic and some spills east and south into the North American Great Plains and the North American Boreal Forest (including northern Manitoba).
The other northern hot spot on the GISS map is at the top of the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf stream, just north of Great Britain. We don't know yet if this 'turning over; effect recorded in the Pacific Ocean happens in the Atlantic but scientists have measured ocean currents called "The Thermohaline Circulation" (Wikipedia). In the Atlantic the current follows a similar path as the Gulf Stream (a weather pattern) - up the east coast of North America turning east just south of Newfoundland and then across the ocean south of Greenland and Iceland to Great Britain and north to the hot spot on the map.
GISS says this year is an El Nino year once again; from "2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade" published 01/21/10.
El Niño and La Niña are prime examples of how the oceans can affect global temperatures. They describe abnormally warm or cool sea surface temperatures in the South Pacific that are caused by changing ocean currents.
Global temperatures tend to decrease in the wake of La Niña, which occurs when upwelling cold water off the coast of Peru spreads westward in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña moderates the impact of greenhouse-gas driven warming, lingered during the early months of 2009 and gave way to the beginning of an El Niño phase in October that's expected to continue in 2010.
An especially powerful El Niño cycle in 1998 is thought to have contributed to the unusually high temperatures that year, and Hansen's group estimates that there's a good chance 2010 will be the warmest year on record if the current El Niño persists. At most, scientists estimate that El Niño and La Niña can cause global temperatures to deviate by about 0.2°C (0.36°F).
Also see a recent article in FilterBlogs: "Al Gore's Polemic against Global Warming Denialists a Brilliant Reality Check".
Image of truck on melting winter road, Winnipeg Free Press
Map of Manitoba Winter Roads Network, Winnipeg Free Press
Ten Year World Heating Map, NASA/GISS
Wikipedia Map of Ocean Currents, The Thermohaline Circulation
---> *an aside, a segue, me talking to myself :)*