The Gulf Stream: Weather and Climate Effects
The Gulf Stream is more than just a single current that attracts an exotic range of fish, and provides quick shortcuts to traveling ships. In fact, its very existence continuously changes the scope of an entire continent's weather patterns and climates.
Locally, particularly off the coast of North Carolina, the Gulf Stream can affect water temperatures, providing warmer ocean waters and balmy days, even in the height of fall and winter.
In addition, the Gulf Stream can affect local storm systems that form or meander off the coast. As the currents of eddies often flow in the same direction as winds, the weather systems can intensify, feeding off the warmer water below it.
For this reason, the Gulf Stream current also has a remarkable albeit dangerous ability to feed and intensify hurricanes and tropical storms which gain strength when passing over warmer waters. This is a phenomenon seen several times along North Carolina's coast, the most recent being Hurricane Alex in 2004, which approached the coast as a moderate tropical storm. After encountering the warmer waters surrounding Hatteras Island, it made landfall as a category 1 Hurricane, intensifying just miles away from Cape Hatteras.
In terms of overall climate, coastal North Carolina enjoys moderate temperatures, ranging typically from 50 degrees on average in January to 80 degrees on average in July, and a portion of this is attributed to the consistent warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream is especially influential on the climate of the east coast of Florida, particularly southeast Florida where the current meets and begins its path up the coast, helping to keep temperatures warmer than in the rest of the southeastern United States during the winter. In fact, because of the Gulf Stream's proximity, many coastal towns along the eastern United States, particularly from Florida to North Carolina where the Gulf Stream begins to veer east, enjoy temperate climates that are less volatile and warmer than their inland counterparts.
This also allows a variety of plans and wildlife to thrive along coastal areas: wildlife that otherwise wouldn't be found at said area's particular latitude, were it not close to the Gulf Stream.
On the other side of the world, the Gulf Stream's flow of tropical air has a significant impact on Europe, particularly England and the British Isles. Britain and Ireland have balmy climates that are also moderate and don't fluxuate dramatically, thanks to the warm once-tropic waters brought in from the Gulf Stream. Like the American East Coast, this brings a host of wildlife and plants that doesn't belong in a location so far north. For example, palm trees can thrive in the middle of winter in Cork, Ireland, even though it's located much farther north than Montreal, Canada. Essentially, if the Gulf Stream did not exist, the climate in Britain would be similar to that found in Siberia.
Because of the Gulf Stream's phenomenal and far reaching impact on global climates, oceanographers and meteorologists pay particular attention to any suspicious changes in its condition or temperature, particularly in recent years when the affect of global warming has come to international attention.
The slightest disruption in the Gulf Stream, whether it's a change in direction or a change in strength, can have unusual consequences in a variety of regions.