Cold winters caused by warmer summers, research suggests

January 12, 2012

Scientists have offered up a convincing explanation for the harsh winters recently experienced in the Northern Hemisphere; increasing temperatures and melting ice in the Arctic regions creating more snowfall in the autumn months at lower latitudes.

Their findings may throw light on specific weather incidents such as the extremely harsh Florida winter of 2010 which ended up killing a host of tropical creatures, as well as the chaos-causing snow that fell on the UK in December 2010.

Published today, Friday 13 January, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, this new research suggests that the trend of increasingly over the past two decades could be explained by warmer temperatures in the autumn having a marked effect on normal , causing temperatures to plummet in the following winter.

The strongest winter cooling trends were observed in the eastern United States, southern Canada and much of northern Eurasia, which the researchers, based at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), the University of Massachusetts and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, believe cannot be entirely explained by the natural variability of the .

Their results showed strong warming throughout July, August and September in the Arctic, which continued through the autumn and, according to their observational data, appeared to enhance the melting of sea ice.

This warmer atmosphere, combined with melting sea ice, allows the Arctic atmosphere to hold more moisture and increases the likelihood of precipitation over more southern areas such as Eurasia, which, in the freezing temperatures, would fall as snow. Indeed, the researchers' observations showed that the average snow coverage in Eurasia has increased over the past two decades.

They believe the increased has an intricate effect on the Arctic Oscillation – an atmospheric pressure pattern in the mid- to high-latitudes – causing it to remain in the "negative phase".

In the "negative phase", high pressure resides over the Arctic region, pushing colder air into mid-latitude regions, such as the United States and northern Canada, and giving the observed colder winters.

The lead author of the study, Judah Cohen, said: "In my mind there is no doubt that the globe is getting warmer and this will favour warmer temperatures in all seasons and in all locations; however, I do think that the increasing trend in snow cover has led to regional cooling as discussed in the paper and I see no reason why this won't continue into the near future. Also if it continues to get much warmer in the fall, precipitation that currently falls as snow will fall as rain instead, eliminating the winter cooling."

It is also deduced that one of the main reasons conventional climate models fail to pick up on this observed winter cooling is their failure to account for the variability of snow cover, which, as demonstrated in this study, can greatly improve the accuracy of seasonal, and lengthier, forecasts.

"We show in the paper how using the snow cover in a seasonal forecast can provide a more skilful or accurate forecast. Without correctly simulating the coupling of winter climate patterns and the variability of snow fall, the models currently used by Government centres miss an important influence on winter and will therefore continue to be deficient in predicting winter weather on seasonal time scales, and even longer decadal time scales," continued Cohen.

Explore further: Seasonal Forecast Calls For Mild Winter In West And Cold In Northeast

More information: Environ. Res. Lett. 7 014007

Related Stories

Winter forecast cold north, dry south, heavy snow

October 20, 2011

(AP) -- Winter looks to be cold and wet across the northern tier of states, and the drought will worsen in the South, where conditions are expected to be warmer and drier than usual, government forecasters said Thursday.

Recommended for you

New Amazon threat? Deforestation from mining

October 18, 2017

Sprawling mining operations in Brazil are destroying much more of the iconic Amazon forest than previously thought, says the first comprehensive study of mining deforestation in the world's largest tropical rainforest.

Scientists determine source of world's largest mud eruption

October 17, 2017

On May 29, 2006, mud started erupting from several sites on the Indonesian island of Java. Boiling mud, water, rocks and gas poured from newly-created vents in the ground, burying entire towns and compelling many Indonesians ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.8 / 5 (8) Jan 12, 2012
except this is the mildest winter ever
2.4 / 5 (8) Jan 12, 2012
I noticed this trend,but this year was not bad at all. Maybe we now are on complete meltdown :p
1.6 / 5 (20) Jan 13, 2012
These guys just can't get off a dead horse. It's getting colder, so we have more snow. How hard is that to understand? These con men are pathetic, and the know nothings that support them are worse.
4.3 / 5 (13) Jan 13, 2012
except this is the mildest winter ever

Except they are referring to a statistical trend over the past 20 years. Which I assume you know. Alternately, you might be dumb.

These guys just can't get off a dead horse. It's getting colder, so we have more snow. How hard is that to understand?

It's hard to understand because it isn't true. Perhaps if you stopped listening to the... what did you call them again...?

...these con men... and the know nothings that support them...

Yeah, if you stopped listening to them, you would understand that there is no conspiracy on the part of scientists. However, there is a political war being waged by various interested industries to shove the real scientists into the gutter. That war is taking place mostly in the USA, which is why people in the USA are so skeptical of the science. No other country on this planet has been hoodwinked like we have, and they are watching us with scornful disbelief. You might rethink your position.
4.4 / 5 (9) Jan 13, 2012
It's getting colder, so we have more snow.

No. All climate simulations say that we will get colder, but drier, winters. On average. We're talking climate here - not weather. Learn to distinguish the two.
1.4 / 5 (9) Jan 13, 2012
If it gets any warmer we might have an ice age.
1.6 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2012
The Artic oscillation and the Nothern Atlantic Oscillation are in an opposite pattern compared to last year. Couple that with La Nina which is typically drier and you get a milder winter as we have had so far.

To be more specific, the NA and NAO were both negative last year, and are strongly positive this year.

The current prediction is that both ath AO and the NAO will weaken soon, and La Nina is supposed to weaken by this spring, so still a solid chance for some winter precipitation.

5 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2012
Great article. Anything that makes our climate models more accurate is to be applauded.
5 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2012
These guys just can't get off a dead horse. It's getting colder, so we have more snow. How hard is that to understand? These con men are pathetic, and the know nothings that support them are worse.

Please quote the source of your data. These "con men" can demonstrate real quantifiable, and demonstrably true data. It makes sense to me to give them a lot more credibility than a troll with absolutely no evidence except perhaps a strong dose of right wing ideology to back them up.

Who actually is being conned here?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.