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. pijoe

    How many consecutive years now have we been told that less arctic ice means there are warmer temperatures. Now we're told less artic ice means we'll have "colder winters". Oh it. No matter how cold or warm the weather is we're told the cause is always global warming. And the left just lines up to lap it up. CNN stop carrying Al Gore's water.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • R

      Do just a bit or research and you'll answer your own question. Melting ice caps will cause some places to be warmer and some to be colder. Eventually it will start and ice age when gulf stream completely stops flowing.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barney D.

      Well, I guess you don't get why shrinking ice caps may to be blame for a localized colder weather system. If you read the article, what the article does, and this is the interesting, and most important part, you ready? Ok, it – it explains it. At least it offers a scientific theory/phenomenon as to why this is happening.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in San Mateo

      Global warming is causing major shifts in weather patterns as more and more energy is put into the atmospheric system. This is going to mean colder winters and hotter summers and it's not rocket science. It's not a "liberal" idea either. It's an intelligence idea. You either have it or you don't.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • t-bone

      So.... the doomsday MMGW nuts win either way.
      Got it.
      And people think i'm nuts. geez!

      February 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Keep in mind that the global warming is raising the 'average' global temperature by a only a couple of degrees. That will have adverse effects on the ecosystem. But it does not dictate warmer temperatures everywhere at all times.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aletheya

      You don't understand the science, yet you don't mind blathering about it. Stop being a dittohead – do your own thinking, read, and learn. The climatologists know a whole lot more than you do on the topic.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bryan

    So, we can blame global warming whether it's hot or cold...convenient. Why don't we blame George Bush for Global Warming while we're at it.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barney D.

      Try reading the article. It completely explains why this phenomenon may be happening.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • 4sanity

      Explaining and predicting how the natural world responds to changing conditions using science is something everyone should appreciate. We're all better for it. Trying to dismiss global warming because you have a personal gripe against a politician of a different party just makes you look sad and stupid.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • sinklikeabrick

      By the way, it isn't global warming. It's climate change that they are predicting.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kingofthenet

    With 'Peak Oil' either already here or close and the world's use of energy increasing, we HAVE to transition to renuables, we don't have millions of years to wait for a new batch of Oil and Coal.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. xman

    Why is Europe covered in snow? Because it fell from the sky and landed on the ground over there.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • ordman

      You beat me by 1/2 second.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ordman

    "Why is Europe buried in snow?"
    Because it's cold!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LeRoy_Was_Here

    Just in case people were not aware of this:

    A press release from NASA just a few weeks ago (on January 19, 2012): The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880, according to NASA scientists. The finding continues a trend in which NINE OF THE TEN WARMEST YEARS IN THE MODERN METEOROLOGICAL RECORD HAVE OCCURRED SINCE THE YEAR 2000.

    When the last decade has been the warmest decade in our records dating back to 1880, it is PATENTLY ABSURD to speak of 'global cooling'.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • LeRoy_Was_Here

      And, I forgot to add, the warmest year on record was 1998. So the ten warmest years on record are all within the past fourteen years.

      Does that look like a trend to you?

      February 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • chinaman03

      this ignorance scares the heck out of me.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rex edie

    doesn't it seem logical..... if you put certain man made chemical elements into the atmosphere over an extended amount of time...... destroy the oxygen eco system by removing vegetation nature uses to purify the air ..... that eventually something is going to change....??? what would happen to your skin...if you tried to bathe in gasoline...???
    its not a natural thing to do......

    February 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    Wonderful and the Rich Republicans just don't care. They lie and say they don't beleive in global warming to over up the greedy desire to not spend a dime fixing it. They don't care about the thousands upon thousands of deaths each year from breathing problems, they don't care that we cannot see the mountains any longer it is all about the BUCK and GREED. I am sure their children and grand children are happy with them.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee S

      Breathing problems? You mean because people choose to smoke etc? Give me a break. The planet is constantly changing and no one can argue that. To think that we have power over mother nature in a major way is laughable.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Earth Time

    If all earth time from the creation of our planet until today were compressed into a 24 hour day, our rein on the planet accounts for only the LAST 3 SECONDS. This planet was inhabited by numerous other creatures that dominated completely for the first 23.99 hours. If we keep trashing our planet and letting the fracking oil companies run a muck I figure we've got about a millisecond left before our own extinction.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee S

      Its actually 2 seconds. But, yea, totally man.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolol

      what a stupid comment..................our

      February 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sumguy

    CNN also has a story about why the US is having an extremely warm winter. What's strange is the scientists in that story don't mention one thing about melting ice caps. They talked a lot about La Ninia, and North Atlantic Oscillation. There is no way that a warm U.S. and a Cold Europe are not who's correct? Seems like a lot of theories that people like to use to justify their own positions.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • alamona

      Duh- of course they're related- melting ice caps changes the air pressure patterns- that means Europe winds up getting freezing and we get hotter and hotter, with more and more volatile storms.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • sumguy

      Of course I get that they are problem is that in the CNN U.S. warm winter story, the melting ice cap is not even mentioned as a cause. Didn't I also read that the Antartic Ice is growing at an extremely fast rate?
      Sounds to me like the planet is staying in balance.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Charlie

    Science shows us the CO2 is a minor player with H2O being the major player. H2O blocks a higher portion of the IR spectrum and at each spectral value it blocks more of the IR. Additionally, Mankind's contribution to the CO2 cycle is roughly 0.5%. In essence, the amount of CO2 we as humans put into the atmosphere is negligible.

    The current warming period is all part of the same repeatable 130,000 year cycle we have seen for the last 1,000,000 years or more. In a few thousand years areas like NYC will once again be covered by a huge sheet of ice and half of the Northern hemisphere will become Uninhabitable. You can't change nature, so enjoy it while you can.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee S

      And then the people in N America will flock south, it will be a hilarious turn of events.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • CC

      No, this is incorrect. The atmospheric CO2 has increased by more than 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lee S

    Winter in Europe is cold, who would thunk it?

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. citizen

    So global warming is now responsible for European freezing? LOL

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ordman

    Just imagine how cold it would be if not for Global Warming. Thank God for Global Warming!

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rhbfdbgb

    Global cooling!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
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