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.

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. Takeanotherlook

    Three types of people, those who fail to plan, those who plan to to fail and those who are going to prepare for anything out of the ordinary that may occur. You can call them Doomsday Preppers. You can call them Self-Reliant. Or like the Boy Scout motto says be prepared. My grandparents were prepared.. they had a root cellar, they canned their vegetables, they know how to exist without a refrigerator,they kept milk in the well so it wouldn't spoil. Some of us that live nearly off the grid or in rural suburbia need to re learn old ways so we can survive should anything happen. Those of you in the city will be coming to the countryside for food if the current system gets disrupted. Whom do you think has a better chance of survival a city dweller or one in the countryside? Better get your ducks in a row soon...

    February 7, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Darth Cheney

      Your motivation is strong. If it were directed towards long-term sustainability, it would be more admirable.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      People should at least have some supplies .... stupid!

      February 7, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. KevinZ

    Once upon a time (1400s through 1800s – Little Ice Age) Europe was colder and snowier than it is now. What about the possibility that climate is changing again (as it always has) and Europe is moving towards a colder climate?

    February 7, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ted Peters

      Not PC pal. We can't redistribute the world's wealth (to emerging demogagues) with that that kind iof thinking.

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

      Did anyone see the movie "The Day After tomorrow"?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. scieng1

    Sure, and 10,000 years ago the cause was too much ice at the poles (and rest of the world). The same was true 5,000 years ago, and 1,000 years ago. Now, not enough ice causes too much ice. Folks, it winter, and winter storms are the norm, not the exception.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. pijoe

    ROTFL When it's unusually warm it's due to global warming. And it never fails these days....when it's unusually cold it's due to global warming too. That's the meterologist's "the dog ate my weather report" excuse. With appologiies to all the end-of-days weather prognosticators out there...the far north is experiencing one of the coldest winters on record. Like it or not.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • rtbrno65

      Yes they are, and it's because there is less arctic ice. It's a reasonable explanation. Just because someone tries to explain why something is happening doesn't necessarly mean they have an agenda.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • MBANE18

      You obviously are not intelligent enough to understand it.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • KevinZ

      Reply to "rtbrno65". So what was the cause of the many many winters in Europe being colder and snowier during the Little Ice Age? Was that because there was less arctic ice back in the 1400s through 1800s??

      February 7, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. Eastvillage

    What incredible BS.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. WHAT?

    GOD is punishing them.,,,besides,better them than us,buying heating oil for POOR PEOPLE SUCKS.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Global Warming

    If humans had a magic thermostat to control the planet's temperature, where would we set it? What is the ideal coldness that climatologists agree on? When can we declare victory over global climate change?

    February 7, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rg

    If only global warming was a republican agenda, we wouldn't be seeing this article here.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Taran

    Global warming/Climate change is all BS invented by Al Gore to make money. This weather is part of a normal cycle in the Global scheme of things. I have spoken to real scientists when stationed in Thule Greenland, and they report that "global warming/climate change" is hogwash as the climate is constantly changing as part of a normal cycle.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Todd F

    This story makes me think of the phrase "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Warm winter in North America? Anthropogenic global warming. Cold weather in Europe? Anthropogenic global warming.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Global Warming

      Well put

      February 7, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. never again RN

    the amount of snow in the pictures looks shallow by Michigan Standards!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rad666

    It has been caused by the clothing industry to sell more jackets.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Taran

    Though it could be happening as pictured in the movie "The Next Day."

    February 7, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Taran

      Make that the movie "The Day After."

      February 7, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. WHAT?

    ORRRR...OBAMMA IS PUNISHING THEM BY NO DRILLING FOR OIL,Besides if you have a green vehicle you can live in it to stay warm.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. danial54

    Buried in snow because ????????? It's winter? and it's supposed to do that? I'm goin with that one!

    February 7, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      So simple and explanation it's brilliant!!! NO, too bad reality is rarely so simple, I'm sorry that anything more complicated to explain than can be done in a sentence hurts your fragile brain, I know you probabaly got confused a few lines down but don't think the rest of the world has so much trouble with the logic of climate change. Self-serving biases are understandably difficult to overcome.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • MBANE18

      Just because it's winter doesn't mean that temperatures drop to extremes and snows constantly. Most European countries have mild wnters with rain. In a lot of European countries houses don't have heating or fireplaces because it never gets thsi cold so when something like this happens, people die

      February 7, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Buck

      Too difficult for you to read the article?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • VegasRage

      Did you miss the part about about weather not seen there in 5 decades? Your explanation is a FAIL!

      February 7, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Ian Guzman

      Danial is either joking or is a complete idiot! For all of those that denied (and some keep denying) global warming, you're mainly to blame for what will be in store in our not so distant future. A habitable Earth is more important than ANY economy and weather extremes are EXPENSIVE, so to choose 'jobs' or the 'economy' over Global Warming just does not make sense, as extreme weathers that we WILL experience more and more of will cost us much more in the long run if we just would've listened to good old Gore whom tried to make Global Warming as easiest to understand via his movie An Inconvenient Truth.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Really? It's winter? Here in upstate New York where I've lived for 50 years, I have never seen 50+ degree days in January, and we've had several. The number of record highs is it itself a record. But by all means, bury that thick head deeper in the sand.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      Hey Joe, I think what he was saying is that sometimes scientist propose explanations that are more biased than reality. There is a lot of proof of global warming, and I agree that there probably is global warming. But to blame every incident on it is starting to become the norm. Sometimes instead of a wild explanation of why this is happening you could simply say it was an outlier temperature in the winter.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      well being a typical ignorant obese lazy american.... I am 100000% sure what happens outside my window is what happens around the world.
      in fact I know very well if it winter outside my window that means it is winter all over the earth.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
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