Freak Pattern Brings Europe Record Cold and Snow

Originally published on Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog

One of the fiercest beginnings to winter on record has slammed Europe with relentless assaults of bitter cold and heavy snowfalls. The unusually wintry weather gripping Europe as well as the cold plaguing the eastern United States are linked by a historically strong weather system locked over Greenland.

Map of atmospheric pressure departures from average (geopotential height anomalies) from December 1 to 18, 2010. Credit: NOAA.

In Europe, the strange weather pattern has caused mayhem for holiday travel. Over the weekend, airport and ground transportation disruptions were widespread, from London's Heathrow Airport - one of the world's busiest hubs - to Frankfurt International Airport and the German Autobahn. According to the The Guardian newspaper, Frankfurt airport workers resorted to dressing up as angels in an attempt to calm the situation when crowds of stranded passengers, frustrated by lengthy delays and flight cancellations, became unruly. Heathrow, meanwhile, was closed to arriving aircraft on Sunday, after being closed altogether on Saturday, according to several news reports. More heavy snow is forecast for London yet again today according to the UK Met Office.

BAA spokesman Andrew Teacher told CNN: “These are absolutely ... freak weather conditions ... We've not seen a storm like this in 20 years.”

So what has been causing this freak winter weather onslaught in Europe, and the colder-than-average conditions in much of the eastern U.S., including Washington? 

There is a very strong “blocking pattern” in place over Greenland, which is helping to steer a parade of storms into the British Isles and mainland Europe, while pumping abnormally mild air into portions of the Canadian Arctic. In short — the atmosphere is jammed up like the Beltway at rush hour. Storm systems have nowhere to go, and are doing weird loop-de-loops up into the Canadian Maritimes, and even off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Read the full post at Capital Weather Gang.