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Wintry blast in Europe has brought record snow and bitter cold

Large parts of Europe are starting the 2023-2024 winter season with an abundance of snow and cold, a stark contrast from last year, which was abnormally warm and snowless.

In Munich, Germany’s third-largest city, a storm over the weekend dropped nearly a foot and a half of snow, setting a December record. It was also the city’s largest snowstorm since early March 2006 and among the biggest of any month on record.

Munich was far from the only European city that has endured a sudden wintry onset. Much of Germany and the rest of Europe is blanketed in snow.

More snow is also on the way, particularly from the Alps northward through Germany and into portions of Eastern Europe.

On Monday, more snow was falling in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich, as well as Geneva and eastward into Russia. Fresh flakes are causing new rounds of airport delays, according to the FlightAware tracking company.

In Munich, hundreds of flights have been canceled daily since late last week because of the snow. Amsterdam airport was also particularly hard-hit, and other airports have faced temporary shutdowns, including Glasgow Airport.

Airport delays even rippled into places that received comparatively little snow, including London.

The snow is also affecting roads and utilities. Cumbria, in northwestern England, was hit with up to a foot of snow. Vehicles there were stranded, and about 13,000 customers lost power, according to the BBC.

Remarkable snow extent over Europe

Satellite imagery and ground observations reveal a remarkable snowfall extent over the continent.

Typically snowy spots — such as the Alps — are buried in above-average amounts, with some locations approaching record highs for the time of year, according to MeteoSwiss, Switzerland’s forecasting agency.

“Europe is likely experiencing its snowiest start to a meteorological winter since 2010,” wrote French meteorologist Nahel Belgherze on X, formerly Twitter.

In the Alps, accumulating snow began in mid-to-late November, when frigid air began to spill south from far-northern Europe, where temperatures have run below normal since October. In recent weeks, only the Iberian Peninsula and countries immediately surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have avoided most of the chill.

Amid the heavy snowfall in southern Germany, temperatures have fallen near or even below zero (minus-18 Celsius), levels more typical of the Scandinavian countries in Europe’s north.

Above average northern hemisphere snow cover

In large part because of the abundant snow in Europe, the extent of snowfall over the Northern Hemisphere has run near to above average for the last eight weeks, according to tracking from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Rutgers University. This is despite below-average snow cover in North America.

Extreme cold and snow have also overtaken parts of Russia, including Siberia, in recent days. One of the most significant daily snowfalls on record hit Moscow on Monday, canceling flights and stranding motorists.

Temperatures in Siberia have plummeted as low as minus-60 to minus-70 degrees (minus-50 to minus-57 Celsius) in recent days, according to weather historian Thierry Goose, a level of cold that is exceptional for this early in the winter.

Some research has shown that notable early-winter cold and snow in these regions can be a harbinger of severe winter weather in North America later in the season.

European cold and snow may soon relent

The severe winter weather in Europe is connected to the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) which allows frigid air from near the North Pole to dive southward.

It tends to support a pattern in which the jet stream is pushed south across the British Isles before curling across Southern and Central Europe. Often the jet stream dip also extends into Eastern Europe and Asia, as it has this week.

But as this negative Arctic Oscillation is relaxing and is forecast to trend toward its neutral phase, wintry conditions may gradually ease somewhat. This week, Western Europe will experience a gradual thaw, whereas the cold should be less extreme in Eastern Europe and Russia by next week.

However, winters that feature the negative phase of this oscillation early in the season tend to see it return, so additional incursions of cold and snow are probable.

Despite the ongoing severe winter weather in Europe, most of the rest of the planet overall continues to experience much warmer-than-normal conditions. Data indicates that last month was Earth’s warmest November on record by a wide margin and the fifth straight month to post record-warmth.

This year will be Earth’s hottest in human history, report confirms

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

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