Quite possibly, not every year but with increased frequency according to an article in The Independent.
A study completed in 2009 by the Potsdam Institute predicted this pattern:
Their models found that, as the ice cap over the ocean disappeared, this allowed the heat of the relatively warm seawater to escape into the much colder atmosphere above, creating an area of high pressure surrounded by clockwise-moving winds that sweep down from the polar region over Europe and the British Isles.
Clever them, because it happened in the following two years. They reckon that cold, snowy winters will be about three times more frequent in the coming years. Two cold winters doesn’t prove it, but the pattern’s looking good.
The cold air activated is about -20C to -30C. But don’t worry, it will warm up a bit over the next 40 to 50 years.
Here’s Stefan Rahmstorf:
Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the Potsdam Institute, said the floating sea ice in winter insulates the relatively warm seawater from the bitterly cold temperatures of the air above it, which can be around -20C or -30C.
“The Arctic sea ice is shrinking and at the moment it is at a record low for mid-to-late December, which provides a big heat source for the atmosphere,” Professor Rahmstorf said. “The open ocean actually heats the atmosphere above because the ocean in the Arctic is about 0C, and that’s much warmer than the atmosphere about it. This is a massive change compared with an ice-covered ocean, where the ice operates like a lid. You don’t get that heating from below.
“The model simulations show that, when you don’t get ice on the Barents and Kara seas, that promotes the formation of a high-pressure system there, and, because the airflow is clockwise around the high, it brings cold, polar air right into Europe, which leads to cold conditions here while it is unusually warm elsewhere, especially in the Arctic,” he explained.
The issue has also reached the consciousness of those on the other side of the Atlantic, as evidenced at Dot Earth. Kevin Trenberth says that he had not seen the study but “count me skeptical.” He also says he is thinking aloud.
Trenberth stresses that a lot of other things are going on. There is a classical negative NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and we have a La Niña, which is associated with above normal pressures in the far North Pacific. Hence he thinks there is a large element of natural variability at play.
I’m with the Potsdam folk here and I’m not sure Trenberth’s position is all that far away. At Potsdam they are saying that there is all sorts of stuff going on, as much as possible captured in the models, but if you add the element of low Arctic sea ice coverage, particularly in the area of the Barents and Kara Seas north of Scandinavia and Russia, you increase the probability of colder winters in Northern Europe.
Anyway to quote Trenberth, as Joe Romm does in this post:
“It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”
It’s a matter of degree.
BTW, in case it happens, on 25 December forecasters were predicting:
temperatures could rise as high as 10C (50F) by the middle of next week as a new weather system moves in from the Atlantic.
Just now I looked up the forecast for Frankfurt. The maximum was -9C and the minimum -14C. That’s cold!