For many locations around the globe some of the most severe weather is associated with outbreaks of cold air over relatively warm oceans, referred to here as marine cold-air outbreaks (MCAOs). Drawing on empirical evidence, an MCAO indicator is defined here as the difference between the skin potential temperature, which over open ocean is the sea surface potential temperature, and the potential temperature at 700 hPa. Rare MCAOs are defined as the 95th percentile of this indicator. Climate model data that have been provided as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report Four (AR4) were used to assess the models’ projections for the twenty-first century and their ability to represent the observed climatology of MCAOs. The ensemble average of the models broadly captures the observed spatial distribution of the strength of MCAOs. However, there are some significant differences between the models and observations, which are mainly associated with simulated biases of the underlying sea ice, such as excessive sea-ice extent over the Barents Sea in most of the models. The future changes of the strength of MCAOs vary significantly across the Northern Hemisphere. The largest projected weakening of MCAOs is over the Labrador Sea. Over the Nordic seas the main region of strong MCAOs will move north and weaken slightly as it moves away from the warm tongue of the Gulf Stream in the Norwegian Sea. Over the Sea of Japan there is projected to be only a small weakening of MCAOs. The implications of the results for mesoscale weather systems that are associated with MCAOs, namely polar lows and arctic fronts, are discussed.