It is shown that the Arctic averaged wintertime temperature variability during the 20th century can be essentially described by two orthogonal modes. These modes were identified by an Empirical Orthogonal Function (EOF) decomposition of the 1892–1999 surface wintertime air temperature anomalies (40°N–80°N) using a gridded dataset covering high Arctic. The first mode (1st leading EOF) is related to the NAO and has a major contribution to Arctic warming during the last 30 years. The second one (3rd leading EOF) dominates the SAT variability prior to 1970. A correlation between the corresponding principal component PC3 and the Arctic SAT anomalies is 0.79. This mode has the largest amplitudes in the Kara-Barents Seas and Baffin Bay and exhibits no direct link to the large-scale atmospheric circulation variability, in contrast to the other leading EOFs. We suggest that the existence of this mode is caused by long-term sea ice variations presumably due to Atlantic inflow variability.