Extreme particulate matter (PM) air pollution of January 2013 in China was found to be associated with an anomalous eastward extension of the Siberian High (SH). We developed a Siberian High position index (SHPI), which depicts the mean longitudinal position of the SH, as a new indicator of the large-scale circulation pattern that controls wintertime air quality in China. This SHPI explains 58 % (correlation coefficient of 0.76) of the interannual variability of wintertime aerosol optical depth (AOD) retrieved by MODIS over North China (NC) during 2001–2013. By contrast, the intensity-based conventional Siberian High index (SHI) shows essentially no skill in predicting this AOD variability. On the monthly scale, some high-AOD months for NC are accompanied with extremely high SHPIs; notably, extreme PM pollution of January 2013 can be explained by the SHPI value exceeding 2.6 times the standard deviation of the 2001–2013 January mean. When the SH extends eastward, thus higher SHPI, prevailing northwesterly winds over NC are suppressed not only in the lower troposphere but also in the middle troposphere, leading to reduced southward transport of pollution from NC to South China (SC). The SHPI hence exhibits a significantly negative correlation of −0.82 with MODIS AOD over SC during 2001–2013, although the robustness of this correlation depends on that of satellite-derived AOD. The suppressed northwesterly winds during high-SHPI winters also lead to increased relative humidity (RH) over NC. Both the wind and RH changes are responsible for enhanced PM pollution over NC during the high-SHPI winters.