With the setting and criteria provided below, how would a country make an artificial winter that targets the North American Continent?


The story that will use this artificial winter is set in the following setting:

  • Alternate universe that mirrors our own.
  • The year is 2025, and science, technology and world politics continue on the same track they are currently on.
  • Besides the different year, the only differences between our universe and this one are that a powerful nation has been planning this artificial winter for quite a while now and has put their plan into effect.

Technological setting:

This whole artificial winter thing has been in the works for quite a while now, so you can assume that a lot of R&D has gone into making this happen. As such, you can incorporate some advances in climate control that are not currently possible today. However, these must meet the following criteria:

  • Your proposed advance in technology must not provide a complete black box solution to this problem. IE The Snowy-Blowy-0-Matic Artificial Winter Creator 4000™ hasn't been invented quite yet.
  • Should be based in our current understanding of the laws of physics and/or chemistry.

Criteria for the artificial winter:

  • It must last at least 6 months,
  • Cause enough snowfall to be disruptive to become a national crisis
  • It does not need to cover the whole of the North America Continent, but must cover enough to be majorly disruptive to the US and Canada on a national level.
  • The plan to make this winter cannot have potentially civilization-ending (or resetting) consequences.
  • The artificial winter itself will be the main disruption to North America, not the side effects of making the winter happen. (I'm looking at you Tsar Bomba;)
  • The winter should mostly be confined to North America.

A good answer will:

  • Be scientifically based (no magic)
  • Be plausible
  • Explain the side effects of your plan to make the artificial winter happen
    • Note: this does not mean that you also have to explain the effects of a 6 month long winter, but I would love to hear those if you want to go into detail.
  • Take no more than 50 years of setup time (IE: cannot have been started before the year 1975)


The criteria for the artificial winter conditions have been changed slightly.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, you mentioned last at least 6 months, does that means you don't care if it's eternity (or decades/centuries at least)? $\endgroup$ – tweray Oct 1 '18 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ Do you need a secret solution ("Hey, it's winter in July, and US government has no clue!"), or it can be a very visible large scale project, like spreading large quantities of ash in the air over North America? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Oct 1 '18 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ How scientifically accurate do you want to be? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 2 '18 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ "It must last at least 6 months". Presumably spring and summer? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 2 '18 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ So, an extended (starts in October, ends in May) and harsh winter would work just as well? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 2 '18 at 15:31

Year Without a Summer, sulfur aerosols are your friend, you can even largely restrict the damage to the northern hemisphere too. The Year Without a Summer was caused by a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia that released huge quantities of sulfur into the upper atmosphere. The sulfur mixes with water vapour and forms minute droplets of sulfuric acid aerosol that stay in the atmosphere for a year or two and absorb and/or reflect a noticeable percentage of the incoming insolation sharply lowering temperatures.

Because of the patterns of global air circulation sulfur released into the atmosphere of the northern hemisphere tends to stay there and vice versa so effecting North America won't cause much havoc south of the equator. A north/south split is about the best you can do though so Europe and Asia will also be in the firing line, but at least the country causing the disruption knows what to expect. You might be able to intensify the effect in North America by creating a high localised concentration of shorter stay large droplet aerosols but there will be some spillover. Sulfur aerosols are rather shortlived with even very high concentrations "raining out" of the atmosphere over the course of a couple of years so the fimbulwinter thus created has a definitely limited lifespan once the sulfur stops being supplied to the stratosphere.

To achieve the desired effect you need a lot of sulfur, a lot of heat, oxygen, and a way to deliver the sulfur oxide compounds produced to the upper atmosphere. The second and third parts are really easy and the fourth provision isn't much harder, there are two ways I can see of delivering the sulfur compounds to the upper atmosphere:

  • the first is to create them at altitude, use high altitude bombers dumping thousands of specially designed shells that create clouds of sulfuric acid vapour as they detonate in the stratosphere.

  • the second is to use enhanced airflow to pump sulfur from the ground into the stratosphere, this would ultimately involve large furnaces fueled by high sulfur coal, with added sulfur, and pumping the resulting exhaust gas into something like a hyperboloid cooling tower. The tower would need to be redesigned for maximum vertical laminar acceleration and minimal gas diffusion to boost the hot, sulfur rich gases into the upper atmosphere.

Personally I favour the bombing-run method, since the equipment can be built away from prying eyes, kept away from prying eyes, and some of it used for other purposes like spy planes until Operation Fimbulwinter is ready to roll.

Finally to address sourcing millions of tonnes of sulfur for the job, you could deliberately mine or buy in cheap high sulfur coal and use it for electricity generation while capturing the sulfur in the waste gas, you even look good internationally since your coal plants are so clean and environmentally friendly. Or you can mine the sulfur from the sea; sure your country doesn't need to use desalination plants and you really don't need to go to the added expense of stripping all that sulfate out of the brine to make the plant work but you can pass it off. Desalination means you can preserve your country's natural watersheds without needing dams for irrigation and drinking water. And the brine is less polluting when it's sulfur free right? Actually if you're going to go to the trouble of breaking down the brine chemically you should go the whole way and extract the rarer commercial metals while you're at it, lithium, manganese, gallium and the like.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There's actually a proposal to use very carefully regulated sulfur aerosol towers to combat global warming using exactly this effect, just at a reduced scale. So all you need is to convince the target country to host one or more of the towers, then sabotage the "careful regulation" part and you're golden. Not only can you do all the work out in the open, you can probably trick the victims into paying for it. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Oct 2 '18 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence Nice, the extra irony would be delicious. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 2 '18 at 13:37

What you want kinda already exists... But you can't target just North America.

This is the device:

Oh the humanity

It's called a Tsar Bomba, and it's the most potent nuke ever. Seriously. Just look at its blast radius:

Oh the humanity, mate

And this is how it works:

Nuclear winter is the severe and prolonged global climatic cooling effect hypothesized to occur after widespread firestorms following a nuclear war. The hypothesis is based on the fact that such fires can inject soot into the stratosphere, where it can block some direct sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth.

How to use: blow a lot of these worldwide, especially around the equator. Remember to always have a Geiger counter with you at all times after that.

Oh, and about this:

The plan to make this winter cannot have potentially civilization-ending consequences.

I am sure civilization would thrive. Our ancestors managed to live without electricity and clean water before, we sure can too.

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! You did provide a solution that totally works, however it does seem a bit extreme. Besides providing a very interesting reading topic (that Tsar Bomba is crazy!!), your proposed solution would devastate North America well before the ensuing nuclear winter would ever have a chance to. I’ll edit my question to make the answer I’m hoping for more clear. $\endgroup$ – Jack Oct 1 '18 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Jack you don't have to devastate North America with this bomb to get a winter. Drop enough on Brazil and Africa alone and you get a global winter. Remember, the stone that did them dinosaurs only hit Mexico. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 1 '18 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct, and I didn't state this outright in the question, but this artificial winter would be for the purpose of making war on Canada and the US (hence the warfare tag), so it would not be in the best interest of the attacking country to cause a world wide winter. I'll try and update the question a little more to show that. Again, I friggin love your answer: I think if anything my question is unclear. $\endgroup$ – Jack Oct 1 '18 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Secretly drill into the Yellowstone super volcano. Don't penetrate the cap over the magma chamber but plant the bomb deep below the Earth. When the bomb explodes, it should ahh enough power to crack the roof of the magma chamber. The resulting volcanic activity will put enough ash and aerosols into the air to ensure a very long and deep winter.... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 1 '18 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides OP doesn't want to make humanity extinct though. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 2 '18 at 13:35

Block the sun with satellites with big panels

You can put a network of satellites orbiting Earth covering all the planet (more or less like the GPS satellites). Of course you will need more satellites to ensure a proper sun blocking. And put big movable panels in the satellites, so you can make them block the sunlight at will. With that, you can have the winter where you need it and for the amount of time you want it.
This image is how the GPS satellite network is represented:
enter image description here


In the comments, you mention:

"It must last at least 6 months". Presumably spring and summer? – RonJohn 37 mins ago

@RonJohn actually there I’m not too picky, any contiguous 6 months of the year should be enough. – Jack 24 mins ago

So, an extended (starts in October, ends in May) and harsh winter would work just as well? – RonJohn 14 mins ago

@RonJohn correct – Jack 2 mins ago

The blocking high pressure region over the North Pacific needs to be larger and come earlier, so as to push the Polar Jet Stream further north over Alaska earlier in the year and push the Variable Pacific Jet Stream further south.

Warm air from the Gulf of Mexico needs to be prevented from coming north.

This allows the Polar Jet Stream to get much colder and then plunge deeper into the continent.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting end goal, but does not describe how to make the change in the course of the jet stream happen. Could you add clarification on how this could be achieved? $\endgroup$ – Jack Oct 2 '18 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that no one knows how to affect only one continent for only 6 months. All the other answers affect -- at least -- the whole hemisphere. We can't come up with an idea in 5 minutes what -- according to your question -- requires a superpower to create in 50 years. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 2 '18 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Not quite, the question says that the time must be at least 6 months, and that it should at least cover most of North America. Those are the lower bounds for how effective the winter must be. However I do see your point in the upper bound requirement of: Mostly confined to North America. In hindsight, that is too specific. I would edit the question again, but editing the question again would be unfair for everyone that has answered. I can't stress this enough though: Thank you for your proposed solution. It means a lot that you are willing to take the time to answer my silly question. $\endgroup$ – Jack Oct 2 '18 at 19:32

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