HUMAN CONSEQUENCES Top Left: Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Feb. 4, 2012: Unexpected snow on the warm island of Majorca.
Top Right: Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2010: The “snowmageddon” blizzard shut down the federal government for nearly a week.
Bottom Left: Carligu Mic, Romania, Feb. 11, 2012: Some 35,000 people in the region were isolated from food and water. Sixteen people in the area died over two days.
Bottom Right: Constanta, Romania, on the Black Sea, Feb. 1, 2012: Temperatures inland dropped to −34 degrees Celsius. Image: DANIEL MIHAILESCU Getty Images, JAMIE REINA Getty Images; PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVALS AP Photo
- Global warming has increased the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, which has altered atmospheric conditions that influence winter weather in the U.S. and Europe.
- The changes lead to invasions of Arctic air into the middle latitudes, increasing the likelihood of severe winter outbreaks, which occurred in the eastern U.S. and northern Europe in 2010 and 2011 and in eastern Europe in January 2012.
- The deck may be stacked for harsh outbreaks during the 2012–2013 winter in North America and Europe.
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Editor's Note (11/13/12): This article was edited after original publication in the print edition to include several corrections and clarifications.
The past three winters in parts of North America and Europe were unusual. First, during the winters of 2009–2011, the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and western and northern Europe endured a series of exceptionally cold and snowy storms—including the February 2010 “snowmageddon” storm in Washington, D.C., that shut down the federal government for nearly a week. Later that year, in October, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) forecasted a mild 2010–2011 winter for the eastern U.S., based on a La Niña pattern of cooler than usual ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific. But even with La Niña's moderating effects, very low temperatures and record snowfalls hit New York City and Philadelphia in January 2011, catching the CPC and other forecasters by surprise.
This article was originally published with the title The Winters of Our Discontent.