Snowing and Freezing in the Arctic

The image from IMS shows snow and ice on day 296 (yesterday) 2007 to 2017, with focus on Eurasia but also showing Canada and Alaska.  You can see that low Arctic ice years, like 2007, 2012 and 2016 have a smaller snow extent on both sides of the Arctic.  Conversely, higher Arctic ice years like 2013, 2014 and 2015 show snow spreading into northern Europe, as well as Alaska.  The pattern appears as gaining snow and ice 2008 to 10, losing 2011 and 2012, then regaining 2013 to 15, before retreating in 2016.  So far 2017 is looking more like 2013 to 15.

From Post Natural Climate Factors: Snow 

Previously I posted an explanation by Dr. Judah Cohen regarding a correlation between autumn Siberian snow cover and the following winter conditions, not only in the Arctic but extending across the Northern Hemisphere. More recently, in looking into Climate Model Upgraded: INMCM5, I noticed some of the scientists were also involved in confirming the importance of snow cover for climate forecasting. Since the poles function as the primary vents for global cooling, what happens in the Arctic in no way stays in the Arctic. This post explores data suggesting changes in snow cover drive some climate changes.

The Snow Cover Climate Factor

The diagram represents how Dr. judah Cohen pictures the Northern Hemisphere wintertime climate system.  He leads research regarding Arctic and NH weather patterns for AER.


Dr. Cohen explains the mechanism in this diagram.

Conceptual model for how fall snow cover modifies winter circulation in both the stratosphere and the troposphere–The case for low snow cover on left; the case for extensive snow cover on right.

1. Snow cover increases rapidly in the fall across Siberia, when snow cover is above normal diabatic cooling helps to;
2. Strengthen the Siberian high and leads to below normal temperatures.
3. Snow forced diabatic cooling in proximity to high topography of Asia increases upward flux of energy in the troposphere, which is absorbed in the stratosphere.
4. Strong convergence of WAF (Wave Activity Flux) indicates higher geopotential heights.
5. A weakened polar vortex and warmer down from the stratosphere into the troposphere all the way to the surface.
6. Dynamic pathway culminates with strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation at the surface.

From Eurasian Snow Cover Variability and Links with Stratosphere-Troposphere
Coupling and Their Potential Use in Seasonal to Decadal Climate Predictions by Judah Cohen.

Variations in Siberian snow cover October (day 304) 2004 to 2016. Eurasian snow charts from IMS.

Observations of the Snow Climate Factor

For several decades the IMS snow cover images have been digitized to produce a numerical database for NH snow cover, including area extents for Eurasia. The NOAA climate data record of Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent, Version 1, is archived and distributed by NCDC’s satellite Climate Data Record Program. The CDR is forward processed operationally every month, along with figures and tables made available at Rutgers University Global Snow Lab.

This first graph shows the snow extents of interest in Dr. Cohen’s paradigm. The Autumn snow area in Siberia is represented by the annual Eurasian averages of the months of October and November (ON). The following NH Winter is shown as the average snow area for December, January and February (DJF). Thus the year designates the December of that year plus the first two months of the next year.

Notes: NH snow cover minimum was 1981, trending upward since.  Siberian autumn snow cover was lowest in 1989, increasing since then.  Autumn Eurasian snow cover is about 1/3 of Winter NH snow area. Note also that fluctuations are sizable and correlated.

The second graph presents annual anomalies for the two series, each calculated as the deviation from the mean of its entire time series. Strikingly, the Eurasian Autumn flux is on the same scale as total NH flux, and closely aligned. While NH snow cover declined a few years prior to 2016, Eurasian snow is trending upward strongly.  If Dr. Cohen is correct, NH snowfall will follow. The linear trend is slightly positive, suggesting that fears of children never seeing snowfall have been exaggerated. The Eurasian trend line (not shown) is almost the same.

What About Winter 2017-2018?

These data confirm that Dr. Cohen and colleagues are onto something. Here are excerpts from his October 2 outlook for the upcoming season AER. (my bolds)

The main block/high pressure feature influencing Eurasian weather is currently centered over the Barents-Kara Seas and is predicted to first weaken and then strengthen over the next two weeks.

Blocking in the Barents-Kara Seas favors troughing/negative geopotential height anomalies and cool temperatures downstream over Eurasia but especially Central and East Asia. The forecast for the next two weeks across Central Asia is for continuation of overall below normal temperatures and new snowfall.

Currently the largest negative anomalies in sea ice extent are in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas but that will change over the next month or so during the critical months of November-February. In my opinion low Arctic sea ice favors a more severe winter but not necessarily hemisphere-wide and depends on the regions of the strongest anomalies. Strong negative departures in the Barents-Kara Seas favors cold temperatures in Asia while strong negative departures near Greenland and/or the Beaufort Sea favor cold temperatures in eastern North America.

Siberian snow cover is advancing quickly relative to climatology and is on a pace similar to last year at this time. My, along with my colleagues and others, research has shown that extensive Siberian snow cover in the fall favors a trough across East Asia with a ridge to the west near the Urals. The atmospheric circulation pattern favors more active poleward heat flux, a weaker PV and cold temperatures across the NH. It is very early in the snow season but recent falls have been snowy across Siberia and therefore I do expect another upcoming snowy fall across Siberia.


In summary the three main predictors that I follow in the fall months most closely, the presence or absence of high latitude blocking, Arctic sea ice extent and Siberian snow cover extent all point towards a more severe winter across the continents of the NH.

Uh oh.  Now where did I put away my long johns?


  1. Dmh · October 25, 2017

    An important difference with respect to 2013-14 is that we have no strong ENSO ahead of us, like in 2015-16.
    Quite the opposite, ENSO is entering a phase of negative anomalies probably stronger than 2013.
    If this trend continues, I think it will bring good Arctic ice extent and NH snowfall in 2018.


  2. Pingback: Fast Arctic Ice Growth and Early Siberian Snow Foretell Harsh Winter Ahead | Principia Scientific International
  3. Taylor Pohlman · January 16, 2019

    What’s your take on the slowdown of Greenland SMB this winter? The past two seasons were way above historical trend, now back to (roughly) normal, when sea ice (particularly Pacific side) seems to be rebounding.


    • Ron Clutz · January 16, 2019

      Don’t know Taylor. Barents is only half iced, and Judan Cohen thinks that sets up for ridging on that side of Greenland. In recent days, Baffin Bay slowed its growth on the other side. It seems this winter has not yet declared itself on the Atlantic side.


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