What makes winter occur is the tilt of the Earth on it’s axis. This in turn pushes the northern or southern hemisphere further away from the sun thus causes the changes of the seasons.
What makes winters especially cold is a coupling effect of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and El Nino. This pushes cooler air from the north pole down to the United States causing many storms on American soil. Canada has been surprisingly warm due to this effect. El Nino is the catalyst that pushes storms, moving them onto shore causing massive cloud cover and snow/rain storms on land.
Another variable is solar output from the sun. The solar activity effects the winds of the Arctic Oscillation index and since solar activity has been decreasing, the wind has occurred at an escalated rate, thus bringing colder winters in the United States. The more we get this low solar activity, the colder the winters will get.
Another point that has been made in the research is how solar activity is associated with the cosmic ray level due to our location in the galaxy, if you would like to know the big picture.
I would like to refer anyone to the two links below which have numerous cited articles depicting all of this. As a student of science I like graphs charts and citations therefore I encourage further reading below. Don’t leave out all the comments to the posting, they also have some peer-reviewed data.
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