Observations from 1979 to 2014 show a positive trend in the summer sea ice melt rate with an acceleration particularly in June and August. This is associated with atmospheric circulation changes such as a tendency toward a dipole pattern in the mean sea level pressure (SLP) trend with an increase over the Arctic Ocean and a decrease over Siberia. Consistent with previous studies, we here show the statistical relationship between the summer sea ice melt rate and SLP and that more than one SLP pattern is associated with anomalously high melt rates. Most high melt rates occur during high pressure over the Arctic Ocean accompanied by low pressure over Siberia, but a strong Beaufort High and advection of warm air associated with a cyclone located over the Taymyr Peninsula can also trigger anomalous high ice melt. We evaluate 10‐member ensemble simulations with the coupled atmosphere‐ice‐ocean Arctic regional climate model HIRHAM‐NAOSIM. The simulations have systematically low acceleration of sea ice melt rate in August, related to shortcomings in representing the strengthening pressure gradient from the Barents/Kara Sea toward Northern Greenland in recent decades. In general, the model shows the same classification of SLP patterns related to anomalous melt rates as the observations. However, the evolution of sea ice melt‐related cloud‐radiation feedback over the summer reveals contrary effects from low‐level clouds in the reanalysis and in the simulations.