The response of the Arctic atmosphere to low and high sea ice concentration phases based on European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) Re-Analysis Interim (ERA-Interim) atmospheric data and Hadley Centre's sea ice dataset (HadISST1) from 1989 until 2010 has been studied. Time slices of winter atmospheric circulation with high (1990–2000) and low (2001–2010) sea ice concentration in the preceding August/September have been analysed with respect to tropospheric interactions between planetary and baroclinic waves. It is shown that a changed sea ice concentration over the Arctic Ocean impacts differently the development of synoptic and planetary atmospheric circulation systems. During the low ice phase, stronger heat release to the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean reduces the atmospheric vertical static stability. This leads to an earlier onset of baroclinic instability that further modulates the non-linear interactions between baroclinic wave energy fluxes on time scales of 2.5–6 d and planetary scales of 10–90 d. Our analysis suggests that Arctic sea ice concentration changes exert a remote impact on the large-scale atmospheric circulation during winter, exhibiting a barotropic structure with similar patterns of pressure anomalies at the surface and in the mid-troposphere. These are connected to pronounced planetary wave train changes notably over the North Pacific.