Abstract The atmospheric forcing of the Bering Sea over its eastern shelf is estimated using the 40-year record of daily data from the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis. This data set includes estimates of the processes responsible for the atmospheric forcing, namely the surface fluxes of momentum, sensible and latent heat, and longwave and shortwave radiation, and therefore permits quantifying effects that previously could be inferred only from the large-scale nature of the flow. The forcing in 1995–1999 is described in detail using daily time series; historical context for these results is provided with seasonal averages for the years 1959–1999. The analysis for winter concentrates on aspects related to the formation and advection of sea ice. Results indicate that the presence of sea ice is strongly related to the net surface-heat fluxes as well as the cross-shelf component of the wind. The 40-year record lacks any discernible long-term trend in the winter forcing and response. There was a notably cold period in the early to middle 1970s, and a warm period from the late 1970s into the early 1980s, but conditions during the 1990s are similar to those in the late 1950s and 1960s. The analysis for the warm season focuses on the mechanisms responsible for the variability in SST warming. Much of the intraseasonal and interannual variability in this warming can be attributed to variations in the downward shortwave radiation (solar heating). The 40-year record does indicate a long-term trend toward increased solar heating, and reduced surface latent-heat fluxes (evaporative cooling). These changes have led to August SSTs in the 1990s that are roughly 1°C warmer than in the 1960s.