Why Is It So Cold in Europe? Does This Mean Global Warming Isn't Real?

Well, before we get into the details, look very quickly at two key words in the title — ‘Europe’ and ‘Global” (hint, hint).

As I just reported earlier today, November was the hottest November on record. However, as I know (I live here), it’s been pretty cold in Europe lately. To a lot of people, I’m sure that is more ‘proof’ that global warming isn’t happening…. Except that it isn’t proof of this at all. (And, of course, we haven’t seen any anti-global warming proof yet, in general, to counter the mountains and mountains of global warming proof documented around the world.)

Also, if you look at global temperature anomaly data, you’ll see that there are some areas of the world that are colder than average, but a lot more that are warmer than average. The point is that global warming (at this point, at least) means that the globe as a whole is warming, but not necessarily every location on Earth every month.

Figure 1: (a) January-November surface air temperature anomaly in GISS analysis, (b) November 2010 anomaly using only data from meteorological stations and Antarctic research stations, with the radius of influence of a station limited to 250 km to better reveal maximum anomalies.
Figure 2: Global surface air temperature anomalies relative to 1951-1980 mean for (a) annual and 5-year running means, and (b) 60-month and 132-month running means. In (a) the 2010 point is a preliminary 11-month anomaly. Green vertical bars are two-standard-deviation error estimates, as discussed in our Reviews of Geophysics paper.

Anyway, why is it so cold in Europe?

NASA discusses this issue in more depth than I have the expertise to do, and it provides a good long-term graph to go with this discussion as well:

Back to the cold air in Europe: is it possible that reduced Arctic sea ice is affecting weather patterns? Because Hudson Bay (and Baffin Bay, west of Greenland) are at significantly lower latitudes than most of the Arctic Ocean, global warming may cause them to remain ice free into early winter after the Arctic Ocean has become frozen insulating the atmosphere from the ocean. The fixed location of the Hudson-Baffin heat source could plausibly affect weather patterns, in a deterministic way — Europe being half a Rossby wavelength downstream, thus producing a cold European anomaly in the trans-Atlantic seesaw. Several ideas about possible effects of the loss of Arctic sea ice on weather patterns are discussed in papers referenced by Overland, Wang and Walsh.

However, we note in our Reviews of Geophysics paper that the few years just prior to 2009-2010, with low Arctic sea ice, did not produce cold winters in Europe. The cold winter of 2009-2010 was associated with the most extreme Arctic Oscillation in the period of record. Figure 3, from our paper, shows that 7 of the last 10 European winters were warmer than the 1951-1980 average winter, and 10 of the past 10 summers were warmer than climatology. The average warming of European winters is at least as large as the average warming of summers, but it is less noticeable because of the much greater variability in winter.

Finally, we point out in Figure 3 the anomalous summer warmth in 2003 and 2010, summers that were associated with extreme events centered in France and Moscow. If the warming trend that is obvious in that figure continues, as is expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase, such extremes will become common within a few decades.

Figure 3: Temperature anomalies relative to 1951-1980 for the European region defined by 36°N-70°N and 10°W-30°E.

Image and Caption Credits: NASA

11 thoughts on “Why Is It So Cold in Europe? Does This Mean Global Warming Isn't Real?”

  1. At the peak of the last ice age the oceans were hundreds of feet lower than they are now. To make the clouds that made the snow that made the glaciers to lower the oceans took heat. Both climate extremes were present; hot and cold.
    We know that particulates from natural disasters can affect regional temperatures, if not the global.
    Burning millions of years of solar converted fuels and oil products into the atmosphere in a few hundred has to have an impact. We just don’t know what will happen from that.

    People look at the climate like it is either hot or cold. Why can’t you have both? Apparently severe climate can have it both ways.

    1. “the peak of the last ice age” — did humans live at that time?

      We know very well some of the most important (to humans) effects of “burning millions of years of solar converted fuels and oil products into the atmosphere in a few hundred.” They aren’t good (if you’re human).

      This is common (scientific) knowledge now, which is why nearly every overarching scientific body has backed up the results and conclusions of climate scientists.

  2. Why do your charts only go back to 1950?

    Wouldn’t showing the last 500 or 5000 years give a better sense of whether we are experiencing “normal” variances or if current trends are in fact unusual?

    1. @Bill: if you want to look at change over the past few years (when CO2 output has risen considerably), using individual years as the metric, you’re not going to be able to see (literally) much on a graph of that scale on our blog. secondly, i did not make these graphs, i got them from another source (as you can see). if you have longer term graphs, feel free to include them, as more comparison is generally useful for perspective’s sake. thirdly, we were specifically discussing the cold winter we are experiencing now compared to European winters and global temps from the past few decades, to show how this winter compares when you take out the very short-term, natural, human comparison that we all do we when experiencing colder or hotter than normal temps. these longer-term comparisons have also been done and discussed, but it was not the focus of this particular piece (i hope you can see that now).

  3. So if it’s cold it’s global warming, and if it’s hot, it’s global warming. I wonder what global cooling would cause??? This sounds like a desperate attempt by climate scientists to justify themselves.

    1. Rhjames: clearly you did not read or did not understand the piece. GLOBALLY, it is hotter. but to assume that every single inch of the planet will be heating up every second is pure ignorance. will there be no more cold records in 2011? No. but will the heat records far outnumber the cold records? Yes.

      with massive climatic change, regions are going to change and influence each other. there is really nothing surprising or counterintuitive here.

      1. Yes, but originally we were told that global warming would result in less snow. Now that some areas are experiencing more snow, it’s blamed on global warming. Can you appreciate the confusion?

        1. global warming results in more precipitation — clear, simple issue. when cold enough, that means more snow. of course, as more places are warmer and warmer these days (2010 was the hottest year on record), that means less snow when it’s not warm enough. it is truly a simepl topic (this part of this pie)

    2. Robert? Well whatever your name is, have you ever played with a top? For a while it spins smoothly and everything is good in the world? Then, it slows and starts to wobble? That is where our climate is today, in a wobble. What kind of scientist are you anyway? You want to wake up to reality? Watch this…REAL science! btw? you may want to watch at least twice, to be sure that you “understand” it! Write me at [email protected] with your wise crack reply…if you can manage one.


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