How Melting Arctic Ice Is Driving Cold Weather to Europe


While the continent of Europe has been enjoying some warmer-than-average temperatures recently, that might be coming to a close as changing air fronts push cold air over the region. Over Easter weekend, the UK, for instance, saw much colder, wetter weather than is typical for the region in April. The main driving factor: melting ice caps.

“One hundred years ago, even 40 years ago in winter, the Barents Sea would be frozen. Now it’s become warm, it’s become salty, it’s become a much stronger evaporative source of moisture,” says Dr. Alun Hubbard, a professor of glaciology at the Arctic University of Norway. Dr. Hubbard’s team was able to track arctic moisture in 2018, revealing that melting snow in the Arctic can lead to moisture accumulating in cold air fronts that push into Europe.

The Beast from the East

In 2018, a pattern of melting Arctic ice, spurred on by warmer global temperatures, coalesced into the gigantic “Beast from the East” storm that blanketed Europe in snow. In March of 2018, the Beast from the East cost Europe as much as one billion euros per day. This event is ingrained in European memory as an example of just how bad a snowfall can get while the ice caps are experiencing historic melt-offs.

And, while Hubbard notes that this doesn’t mean that this current round of wet, cold weather is directly tied to the Arctic, it does offer a good basis for the hypothesis. After all, the current weather pattern movements in Europe have very similar characteristics to the weather observed in 2018.

Climate Change and Europe

Climate change in Europe is a huge issue that is pressing on every country in the region. Europe stretches from a very cold, near-Arctic region in the North to the temperate and mild banks of the Mediterranean. As global climate change continues, the region is sure to see pressing issues that are both globally common and uniquely local.

The first issue that Europe will have to contend with as climate change worsens is intensifying natural disasters, like blizzards and more frequent Atlantic hurricanes. While it was once unheard of for Europe’s west coast to suffer the impact of hurricanes, Spain and England have both seen the remnants of tropical storms reach them in recent years.

The next pressing issue? Food availability. Millions of people live in each country in the EU, and food imports keep them fed. As arable land become scarcer under climate change, people will become hungrier and hungrier, all as the amount of livable space shrinks thanks to rising sea levels. This is a future the EU is scrambling to avert with sustainable energy practices.