In mid-February 2018, a strong high-pressure weather system slid over Scandinavia, bringing cold easterly winds that plunged Europe into a historic deep freeze. Arctic temperatures gripped the continent for weeks; snow fell as far south as Rome. In the British Isles, early March blizzards produced 25-foot snow drifts.
New research suggests that this astonishing cold wave, dubbed the Beast from the East, was supercharged with snow thanks in part to a dearth of sea ice in the Barents Sea, off the Arctic coasts of Norway and Russia. It points to a different and poorly studied way in which declining Arctic sea ice can impact the weather further south— distinct from the meandering jet stream phenomenonthat has gotten so much press.
The study, published Thursday in Nature Geoscience, used isotopic matching, satellite data, and models to trace the origins of the snow that fell during the Beast from the East. The authors found that up to 88 percent of it, or 140 billion tons of snow, might have originated from evaporation at the surface of the Barents Sea, where levels of...