Analysis of two continuous, high-resolution palaeo-flood records from southern Norway reveals that the frequency of extreme flood events has changed significantly during the Holocene. During the early and middle Holocene, flood frequency was low; by contrast, it was high over the last 2300 years when the mean flood frequency was about 2.5–3.0 per century. The present regional discharge regime is dominated by spring/summer snowmelt, and our results indicate that the changing flood frequency cannot be explained by local conditions associated with the respective catchments of the two lakes, but rather long-term variations of solid winter precipitation and related snowmelt. Applying available instrumental winter precipitation data and associated sea-level pressure re-analysis data as a modern analogue, we document that atmospheric circulation anomalies, significantly different from the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), have some potential in explaining the variability of the two different palaeo-flood records. Centennial-scale patterns in shifting flood frequency might be indicative of shifts in atmospheric circulation and shed light on palaeo-pressure variations in the North Atlantic region, in areas not influenced by the NAO. Major shifts are found at about 2300, 1200 and 200 years ago (cal. a BP). Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.