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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,more »
The sensitivity of the climate to CO2forcing depends on spatially varying radiative feedbacks that act both locally and nonlocally. We assess whether a method employing multiple regression can be used to estimate local and nonlocal radiative feedbacks from internal variability. We test this method on millennial-length simulations performed with six coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs). Given the spatial pattern of warming, the method does quite well at recreating the top-of-atmosphere flux response for most regions of Earth, except over the Southern Ocean where it consistently overestimates the change, leading to an overestimate of the sensitivity. For five of the six models, the method finds that local feedbacks are positive due to cloud processes, balanced by negative nonlocal shortwave cloud feedbacks associated with regions of tropical convection. For four of these models, the magnitudes of both are comparable to the Planck feedback, so that changes in the ratio between them could lead to large changes in climate sensitivity. The positive local feedback explains why observational studies that estimate spatial feedbacks using only local regressions predict an unstable climate. The method implies that sensitivity in these AOGCMs increases over time due to a reduction in the share of warming occurring inmore »