Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Extreme summer weather in northern mid-latitudes linked to a vanishing cryosphere


The past decade has seen an exceptional number of unprecedented summer extreme weather events1,2,3,4 in northern mid-latitudes, along with record declines in both summer Arctic sea ice5,6 and snow cover on high-latitude land7. The underlying mechanisms that link the shrinking cryosphere with summer extreme weather, however, remain unclear8,9,10,11,12. Here, we combine satellite observations of early summer snow cover and summer sea-ice extent13 with atmospheric reanalysis data14 to demonstrate associations between summer weather patterns in mid-latitudes and losses of snow and sea ice. Results suggest that the atmospheric circulation responds differently to changes in the ice and snow extents, with a stronger response to sea-ice loss, even though its reduction is half as large as that for the snow cover. Atmospheric changes associated with the combined snow/ice reductions reveal widespread upper-level height increases, weaker upper-level zonal winds at high latitudes, a more amplified upper-level pattern, and a general northward shift in the jet stream. More frequent extreme summer heat events over mid-latitude continents are linked with reduced sea ice and snow through these circulation changes.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: SIE, SCE and Arctic Oscillation indices.
Figure 2: Regressed height fields.
Figure 3: Regressed wind and height anomalies.
Figure 4: Regressed surface temperature and heat events.


  1. 1

    Peterson, T. C., Hoerling, M. P., Stott, P. A. & Herring, S. C. (eds) Explaining extreme events of 2012 from a climate perspective. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, S1–S74 (2013).

  2. 2

    Coumou, D. & Rahmstorf, S. A decade of weather extremes. Nature Clim. Change 2, 491–496 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Sutton, R. T. & Dong, B. Atlantic Ocean influence on a shift in European climate in the 1990s. Nature Geosci. 5, 788–792 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Seo, K-H., Son, J-H., Lee, S-E., Tomita, T. & Park, H-S. Mechanisms of an extraordinary East Asian summer monsoon event in July 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L05704 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Comiso, J. C. Large decadal decline of the Arctic multiyear ice cover. J. Clim. 25, 1176–1193 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Stroeve, J. C. et al. The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: a research synthesis. Climatic Change 110, 1005–1027 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Derksen, C. & Brown, R. Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008–2012 period exceeding climate model projections. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19504 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Jaeger, E. B. & Seneviratne, S. I. Impact of soil moisture–atmosphere coupling on European climate extremes and trends in a regional climate model. Clim. Dynam. 36, 1919–1939 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Overland, J. E., Francis, J. A., Hanna, E. & Wang, M. The recent shift in early summer Arctic atmospheric circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19804 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Francis, J. A. & Vavrus, S. J. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L06801 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Matsumura, S. & Yamazaki, K. Eurasian subarctic summer climate in response to anomalous snow cover. J. Clim. 25, 1305–1317 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Tang, Q., Zhang, X., Yang, X. & Francis, J. A. Cold winter extremes in northern continents linked to Arctic sea ice loss. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014036 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Cavalieri, D. J. & Parkinson, C. L. Arctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2010. Cryosphere 6, 881–889 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Polyakov, I. V. et al. Observationally based assessment of polar amplification of global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1878 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Screen, J. A., Deser, C. & Simmonds, I. Local and remote controls on observed Arctic warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10709 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Serreze, M. C. & Francis, J. A. The Arctic amplification debate. Climatic Change 76, 241–264 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Porter, D. F., Cassano, J. J. & Serreze, M. C. Local and large-scale atmospheric responses to reduced Arctic sea ice and ocean warming in the WRF model. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D11115 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Liu, J., Curry, J. A., Wang, H., Song, M. & Horton, R. M. Impact of declining Arctic sea ice on winter snowfall. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 4074–4079 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S. & Schellnhuber, H. J. Quasiresonant amplification of planetary waves and recent northern hemisphere weather extremes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 5336–5341 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Li, W., Li, L., Ting, M. & Liu, Y. Intensification of Northern Hemisphere subtropical highs in a warming climate. Nature Geosci. 5, 830–834 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Thompson, D. W. J. & Wallace, J. M. The Arctic Oscillation signature in the wintertime geopotential height and temperature fields. Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 1297–1300 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Stroeve, J. C. et al. Sea ice response to an extreme negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during winter 2009/2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L02502 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Ogi, M. & Wallace, J. M. The role of summer surface wind anomalies in the summer Arctic sea ice extent in 2010 and 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09704 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Jaiser, R, Dethloff, K. & Handorf, D. Stratospheric response to Arctic sea ice retreat and associated planetary wave propagation changes. Tellus A 65, 1–11 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Li, W., Li, L., Fu, R., Deng, Y. & Wang, H. Changes to the North Atlantic subtropical high and its role in the intensification of summer rainfall variability in the southeastern United States. J. Clim. 24, 1499–1506 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Lau, W. K. M. & Kim, K-M. The 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave: teleconnection of hydrometeorological extremes. J. Hydrometeorol. 13, 392–403 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Weisberg, S. Applied Linear Regression 3rd edn (Wiley, 2005).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Eisenman, I. Geographic muting of changes in the Arctic sea ice cover. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L16501 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work by Q.T. and X.Z. was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2012CB955403), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41171031), and Hundred Talents Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. J.A.F. was supported by NSF/ARCSS Grant No. 1304097.

Author information




Q.T. and J.A.F. designed the study. Q.T., X.Z. and J.A.F. conducted the analysis and all of the authors contributed to the paper writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Qiuhong Tang.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tang, Q., Zhang, X. & Francis, J. Extreme summer weather in northern mid-latitudes linked to a vanishing cryosphere. Nature Clim Change 4, 45–50 (2014).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing