In 1983, R.P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman, J.B. Pollack, and Carl Sagan (referred to as TTAPS) published a paper entitled "Global Atmospheric Consequences of Nuclear War" which is the foundation on which the nuclear winter theory is based on.
Theory states that nuclear explosions will set off firestorms over many cities and forests within range. Great plumes of smoke, soot, and dust would be sent aloft from these fires, lifted by their own heating to high altitudes where they could drift for weeks before dropping back or being washed out of the atmosphere onto the ground. Several hundred million tons of this smoke and soot would be shepherded by strong west-to-east winds until they would form a uniform belt of particles encircling the Northern Hemisphere.
These thick black clouds could block out all but a fraction of the sun's light for a period as long as several weeks. The conditions of semidarkness, killing frosts, and subfreezing temperatures, combined with high doses of radiation from nuclear fallout, would interrupt plant photosynthesis and could thus destroy much of the Earth's vegetation and animal life. The extreme cold, high radiation levels, and the widespread destruction of industrial, medical, and transportation infrastructures along with food supplies and crops would trigger a massive death toll from starvation, exposure, and disease.
It is not certain that a nuclear war would produce a nuclear winter effect. However, it remains a possibility and the TTAPS study concluded: "...the possibility of the extinction of Homo Sapiens cannot be excluded."