skip to main content


Title: Limited surface impacts of the January 2021 sudden stratospheric warming
Abstract

Subseasonal weather prediction can reduce economic disruption and loss of life, especially during “windows of opportunity” when noteworthy events in the Earth system are followed by characteristic weather patterns. Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs), breakdowns of the winter stratospheric polar vortex, are one such event. They often precede warm temperatures in Northern Canada and cold, stormy weather throughout Europe and the United States - including the most recent SSW on January 5th, 2021. Here we assess the drivers of surface weather in the weeks following the SSW through initial condition “scrambling” experiments using the real-time CESM2(WACCM6) Earth system prediction framework. We find that the SSW itself had a limited impact, and that stratospheric polar vortex stretching and wave reflection had no discernible contribution to the record cold in North America in February. Instead, the tropospheric circulation and bidirectional coupling between the troposphere and stratosphere were dominant contributors to variability.

 
more » « less
NSF-PAR ID:
10368080
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Volume:
13
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2041-1723
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are impressive fluid dynamical events in which large and rapid temperature increases in the winter polar stratosphere (10–50 km) are associated with a complete reversal of the climatological wintertime westerly winds. SSWs are caused by the breaking of planetary‐scale waves that propagate upwards from the troposphere. During an SSW, the polar vortex breaks down, accompanied by rapid descent and warming of air in polar latitudes, mirrored by ascent and cooling above the warming. The rapid warming and descent of the polar air column affect tropospheric weather, shifting jet streams, storm tracks, and the Northern Annular Mode, making cold air outbreaks over North America and Eurasia more likely. SSWs affect the atmosphere above the stratosphere, producing widespread effects on atmospheric chemistry, temperatures, winds, neutral (nonionized) particles and electron densities, and electric fields. These effects span both hemispheres. Given their crucial role in the whole atmosphere, SSWs are also seen as a key process to analyze in climate change studies and subseasonal to seasonal prediction. This work reviews the current knowledge on the most important aspects of SSWs, from the historical background to dynamical processes, modeling, chemistry, and impact on other atmospheric layers.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are the most dramatic events in the wintertime stratosphere. Such extreme events are characterized by substantial disruption to the stratospheric polar vortex, which can be categorized into displacement and splitting types depending on the morphology of the disrupted vortex. Moreover, SSWs are usually followed by anomalous tropospheric circulation regimes that are important for subseasonal-to-seasonal prediction. Thus, monitoring the genesis and evolution of SSWs is crucial and deserves further advancement. Despite several analysis methods that have been used to study the evolution of SSWs, the ability of deep learning methods has not yet been explored, mainly due to the relative scarcity of observed events. To overcome the limited observational sample size, we use data from historical simulations of the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model version 6 to identify thousands of simulated SSWs, and use their spatial patterns to train the deep learning model. We utilize a convolutional neural network combined with a variational auto-encoder (VAE)—a generative deep learning model—to construct a phase diagram that characterizes the SSW evolution. This approach not only allows us to create a latent space that encapsulates the essential features of the vortex structure during SSWs, but also offers new insights into its spatiotemporal evolution mapping onto the phase diagram. The constructed phase diagram depicts a continuous transition of the vortex pattern during SSWs. Notably, it provides a new perspective for discussing the evolutionary paths of SSWs: the VAE gives a better-reconstructed vortex morphology and more clearly organized vortex regimes for both displacement-type and split-type events than those obtained from principal component analysis. Our results provide an innovative phase diagram to portray the evolution of SSWs, in which particularly the splitting SSWs are better characterized. Our findings support the future use of deep learning techniques to study the underlying dynamics of extreme stratospheric vortex phenomena, and to establish a benchmark to evaluate model performance in simulating SSWs.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The frequency of stratospheric sudden warming events (SSWs) is an important characteristic of the coupled stratosphere–troposphere system. However, many modern climate models are unable to reproduce the observed SSW frequency. A previous study suggested that one of the reasons could be the momentum damping at the surface. The goal of the present study is to understand what determines the climatological SSW frequency and how the surface damping comes into play. To this end, we conduct a parameter sweep with an idealized model, using a wide range of values for the surface damping. It is found that the SSW frequency is a strong and nonlinear function of the surface damping. Various tropospheric and stratospheric factors are identified to link the surface damping to the SSW frequency. The factors include the magnitude of the surface winds, the meridional and vertical wind shear, the synoptic eddy activity in the troposphere, the transient wave activity flux at the lower stratosphere, and the strength of the stratospheric polar vortex. Mathematical–statistical modeling, informed by the parameter sweep, is used to quantify how the different factors relate to each other. This successfully reproduces the complex variations of the SSW frequency with the surface damping seen in the parameter sweep. The results may help in explaining some of the difficulties that climate models have in simulating the observed SSW frequency.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract Rare events arising in nonlinear atmospheric dynamics remain hard to predict and attribute. We address the problem of forecasting rare events in a prototypical example, sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs). Approximately once every other winter, the boreal stratospheric polar vortex rapidly breaks down, shifting midlatitude surface weather patterns for months. We focus on two key quantities of interest: the probability of an SSW occurring, and the expected lead time if it does occur, as functions of initial condition. These optimal forecasts concretely measure the event’s progress. Direct numerical simulation can estimate them in principle but is prohibitively expensive in practice: each rare event requires a long integration to observe, and the cost of each integration grows with model complexity. We describe an alternative approach using integrations that are short compared to the time scale of the warming event. We compute the probability and lead time efficiently by solving equations involving the transition operator, which encodes all information about the dynamics. We relate these optimal forecasts to a small number of interpretable physical variables, suggesting optimal measurements for forecasting. We illustrate the methodology on a prototype SSW model developed by Holton and Mass and modified by stochastic forcing. While highly idealized, this model captures the essential nonlinear dynamics of SSWs and exhibits the key forecasting challenge: the dramatic separation in time scales between a single event and the return time between successive events. Our methodology is designed to fully exploit high-dimensional data from models and observations, and has the potential to identify detailed predictors of many complex rare events in meteorology. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Extreme cold events over North America such as the February 2021 cold wave have been suggested to be linked to stratospheric polar vortex stretching. However, it is not resolved how robustly and on which timescales the stratosphere contributes to the surface anomalies. Here we introduce a simple measure of stratospheric wave activity for reanalyses and model outputs. In contrast to the well-known surface influences of sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) that increase the intraseasonal persistence of weather regimes, we show that extreme stratospheric wave events are accompanied by intraseasonal fluctuations between warm and cold spells over North America in observations and climate models. Particularly, strong stratospheric wave events are followed by an increased risk of cold extremes over North America 5–25 days later. Idealized simulations in an atmospheric model with a well-resolved stratosphere corroborate that strong stratospheric wave activity precedes North American cold spells through vertical wave coupling. These findings potentially benefit the predictability of high-impact winter cold extremes over North America.

     
    more » « less