Europe's wintry weather
February 6th, 2012
03:02 PM ET

Shrinking polar ice caps may be to blame for frigid Europe

Europe's deadly cold snap may have a lot to do with shrinking amounts of ice in the Arctic, a recent study suggests.

Nearly 300 deaths have been reported across the continent, with snow accumulations not seen in five decades reported in some places. Warsaw, Poland, has seen 11 days of temperatures well below average, with a coldest reading of 35 below zero Fahrenheit.

As warmer air rises into the stratosphere over the Arctic, colder surface air moves south bringing storms to Europe.

Scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, say the frigid, snowy European winter has its origins in a warm Arctic summer.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July 2011 was the fourth-warmest July on record. A warm summer in the Arctic cuts the amount of sea ice. NOAA reports that sea-ice levels last July were the lowest in three decades.

The effect is twofold, the Wegener scientists report.

First, less ice means less solar heat is reflected back into the atmosphere. Rather, it is absorbed into the darker ocean waters. Second, once that heat is in the ocean, the reduced ice cap allows the heat to more easily escape into the air just above the ocean's surface.

Because warmer air tends to rise, the moisture-laden air near the ocean's surface rises, creating instability in the atmosphere and changing air-pressure patterns, the scientists say.

One pattern, called the Arctic Oscillation, normally pushes warm Atlantic air over Europe and keeps Arctic air over the poles.

But in mid-January this year, the Arctic Oscillation abruptly changed, allowing the jet stream to plunge into Siberia and push cold and snowy weather over much of Europe.

Similar situations have emerged the past two years.

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Check out some more reports on what this winter's been like, both in the U.S. and around the world:

Frigid weather helps cost Romania's prime minister his job

What's behind America's warm winter?

soundoff (1,080 Responses)
  1. wow

    This is the kind of information people deny....we r in for the ride yall...that's all just riding this planet.don't get scared now

    February 7, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Gene

      What are we worried about? You nor I will ever see any problem. Maybe 10 generations from now unless a huge meteor or asteroid hits the earth.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • filthburger

      we won't see a problem in our lifetimes? umm, isn't this article about record cold in Europe? haven't we had record numbers of tornadoes? Katrina? Didn't hurricane Wilma grow faster than any other hurricane ever recorded?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Uri Tahrdud

      @Gene ....yeah, 300 people dying from the crazy weather in Europe... or all the people that died in recent unusual weather events that seem to be happening more frequently... or even the polar bears that drown because the ice is melting so radpily.... they aren't bothered here and now by this stuff at all. And who cares if our great great grandkids live in the hell we made for them? We should only care about ourselves, and know that we're happy at this very particular moment in time.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • hmmm

      No cure to aids but we kno Wat the earth will do...cmon!

      February 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Food

    ANGRY SCIENTIST is mad at GOVERNMENT. lol !!!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. Think

    It it also much colder in Washington and Oregon? The benefit from a very similar weather pattern as Europe.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. cleat

    we had 100" of snow last year here- and hardly any snow now....OH TEH NOES!!!!11!!! ITS GLOBAL WARMING!!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. justanonymous

    Yes, obviously, because global warming makes the world colder. No wait, hold up a second. There's a flaw in that somewhere. Snakeoil salesmen are always honest right? They wouldn't lie to me would they?

    February 7, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Steven

      I really wish that I could change the term to "Global Weirding" instead of gloabl warming.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • ProtectAtAllCost

      No, it's just that you're thought capabilities are moronically simplistic. Get a clue, do some real research (not from talk show hosts), and realize that GW has led to glaciation of North America and Europe in the past, and then realize how easily it can happen again. By the way, the last time it happened to Europe it took about 3 years to go from conditions much like they've had (up until the last few years) for a very long time and it took about 60,000 years for it to stop being a glacier.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • scientificallyeducated

      Please educated yourself before making this type of comment. The correct terminology is "global climate change". Some places will be colder, on average, and some places will be warmer, on average. One season does not make a trend, but the trends over the last few decades are very clear to those that study the data. Read what Stephen Hawking has to say about climate change. Oh, wait – you probably think he is some kind of "snakeoil" salesman paid by the liberal media, too – right?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Uri Tahrdud


      Nice to see someone else mention climate change. It's sad how so many people prefer to jump on examples of cold weather as an attack on people warning about the dangers of global warming, instead of taking the time to educate themselves about how the warming trend will result in changes in climate patterns.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. Steven

    I appreciate yours and other efforts pro-science to try to inject some sense into these deniers but no matter what I do not think you will be able to convince them. I could bring up facts, studies and even the fact that scientists are more unanimous on this issue than on any other ever but they would just ignore it or contest it with biased facts and data. They would also most likely call all the facts that I bring up biased or fake... The point is your "preaching to the converted." May I suggest the book Denying Science or

    February 7, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • realist88

      I think most realize there may be something to this, but are tired of the political agenda being pushed which HAS in fact been used to alter data and certainly biases theories based on the findings. That's the trouble – it's hard to trust the same scientists that we KNOW for a fact have created certain facts in the past.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Uhhhhh.....maybe it's because the 'scientists' who spout this garbage are the same people who with real time data can't tell us if it's going to rain in a few hours but somehow, magically they can tell us that the entire planet is warming because of US. Lets not even get into the false data that was stolen by hackers, THANKS GOD for hackers!

      February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • notbobslc

      And yet the supports of climate change have completely ignored the east Anglia report last week that showed solar energy output has dropped with an expected change to their predictions. The AGW climate fools are finally going to have to face the facts that the sun controls our climate not us!

      February 7, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. Doomer

    Good thing I emigrated to USA from that barren of luck to you losers who stayed

    February 7, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. ham222

    RUN!!!!!! Cold weather is happening! What about the Polar Bears!!!! Are they trapped on an ice burg???!!! Someone go get them!!!! They might need a Coke!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!!! We're all going to die! Thanks CNN! I'm boarding up my house and turning out all the lights. Good luck everyone. Long live the human race. Tell my family I love them.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. SLarge

    Looks to me likes there's all kinds of ice over the arctic, Hudson's bay, Baffin island / Nfld / Beaufort seas, etc. Most areas are actually close to historic averages. Perhaps it's just normal climate fluctuations? But unfortunately, there's no money in 'normal'.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Uri Tahrdud

      There's plenty of money in "normal." The big companies that are accelerating the global warming trend profit immensely from convincing people that we're not harming anything by releasing copious amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere... Wouldn't the oil companies lose business/money if people were fully educated about simple matters of science, and realized the danger in overusing fossil fuels? More scientists would be studying other things if climate change wasn't a serious threat to life on this planet – it isn't excuse for them to make money.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  10. Root

    News flash: IT'S JANUARY!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dav

    Gee may it gets cold in the winter .Lets have an Al Gore chicken little meeting to decide.Just look at your past history .

    February 7, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bemused

    Maybe this will shut the mouths of those arrogant Euros who blast us with hate for our big cars and use of coal/oil in North America to keep warm. Northern USA and Canada does this because we have been coping with the extreme winter conditions Euros are just beginning to face. For those non-arrogant Euros, I feel your pain and hope this goes away soon.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. RachelM

    Shrinking polar caps? Were the polar caps shrinking in the 18th & 19th centuries when Europe used to get cold, snowy winters? The Seine used to freeze over solid in Paris though it hasn't happened in the last 100 years, it has happened in the past 200 years.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ed

    Uhhhhh, ya so what was the cold snap 50 years ago attributed too? Thank people!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Greg

    Maybe its time to teach the Democrats how to read a thermometer and how to chart temperature readings on a Graph.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Darth Cheney

      Maybe its time to teach Republicans that here-and-now temperature readings are irrelevant in the context of processes taking place over decades, and that global warming changes many processes and increases variability in climate and weather (which are separate things).

      February 7, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Uri Tahrdud

      Greg, my guess is that you've never even heard of the metric system. Am I correct in that assumption?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • ProtectAtAllCost

      @Uri Tahrdud,

      Well... he heard about it, but was convinced it was a Democratic, left-wing, new world-order establishing, freedom-killing, job-killing, mind-controlling, science-conspiracy supporting plot to ruin his life, so he ran away screaming like a scared little girl who's wet her panties and is embarrassed how pathetic he would look if anyone saw what a mess he'd made.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
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