Starting in 1979 with the SMMR (Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer) instrument onboard the satellite NIMBUS-7 and continuing since 1987 with the SSMI (Special Sensor Microwave Imager) instrument on board the DMSP (Defence Meteorological Satellite Program) series, more then twenty years of satellite passive microwave data are now available. This dataset has been processed to analyse the evolution of the global snow cover. This work is part of the AICSEX project from the 5th Framework Programme of the European Community. The spatio-temporal evolution of the satellite-derived yearly snow maximum extent and the timing of the spring snow melt were estimated and analysed over the Northern Hemisphere. Significant differences between the evolution of the yearly maximum snow extent in Eurasia and in North America were found. A positive correlation between the maximum yearly snow cover extent and the ENSO index was obtained. High interannual spatio-temporal variability characterises the timing of snow melt in the spring. Twenty-year trends in the timing of spring snow melt have been computed and compared with spring air temperature trends for the same period and the same area. In most parts of Eurasia and in the central and western parts of North America the tendency has been for earlier snow melt. In northeastern Canada, a large area of positive trends, where snow melt timing starts later than in the early 1980s, corresponds to a region of positive trends of spring air temperature observed over the same period.