A brand-new paper from Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus „Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes“, (GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 39, 2012)
sheds new light on the issue of extreme weather events due to global warming!
The two scientists found evidence that enhanced Arctic warming relative to mid latitudes (Arctic amplification, AA) leads to prolonged extreme weather events, like droughts, heat waves (such as in Russia, summer 2010!), heavy rain and cold spells (remember persistent chilly conditions in recent winters!).
Arctic Amplification means enhanced arctic warming relative to mid latitudes due to a sort of inverse Ice-Albedo-Feedback. Decreasing bright, highly reflective sea ice is replaced by dark open water, absorbing sunlight strongly. Open water also releases a lot of moisture and latent heat in artctic atmosphere.
Due to the fact that jetstream is driven by gradient in air-temperature (and gradient in air pressure arising thereby, respectively) between polar regions and mid latitudes, jetstream slows down and becomes wavier.
Seasonal anomalies in 1000-500 hPa thicknesses (m) north of 40°N during 2000–2010 relative to 1970–1999: (a) autumn (OND), (b) winter (JFM), (c) spring (AMJ), and (d) summer (JAS). White asterisks indicate significance with chance level p < 0.05. 1000-500 hPa thickness reveals aerial vertical thermal expansion by means of distance between 1000 hPa- and 500 hPa isobaric surface. Source: Francis and Vavrus, 2012
As a result high and low pressure systems moved by jetstream slow down, too.
These weather systems arise from turbulence in jetstream like the vortexes of a raging river do.
A wavy jetstream results in cold spells via wave troughs (in reverse warm spells via wave crests, respectively), whereas high air moisture makes possible a lot of snow.
Finally a nice animation of the jetstream of northern hemisphere from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (Scientific Visualization Studio):