The composite structure of the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) has long been known to feature pronounced Rossby gyres in the subtropical upper troposphere, whose existence can be interpreted as the forced response to convective heating anomalies in the presence of a subtropical westerly jet. The question of interest here is whether these forced gyre circulations have any subsequent effects on divergence patterns in the tropics and the Kelvin-mode component of the MJO. A nonlinear spherical shallow water model is used to investigate how the introduction of different background jet profiles affects the model’s steady-state response to an imposed MJO-like stationary thermal forcing. Results show that a stronger jet leads to a stronger Kelvin-mode response in the tropics up to a critical jet speed, along with stronger divergence anomalies in the vicinity of the forcing. To understand this behavior, additional calculations are performed in which a localized vorticity forcing is imposed in the extratropics, without any thermal forcing in the tropics. The response is once again seen to include pronounced equatorial Kelvin waves, provided the jet is of sufficient amplitude. A detailed analysis of the vorticity budget reveals that the zonal-mean zonal wind shear plays a key role in amplifying the Kelvin-mode divergent winds near the equator, with the effects of nonlinearities being of negligible importance. These results help to explain why the MJO tends to be strongest during boreal winter when the Indo-Pacific jet is typically at its strongest.
The MJO is a planetary-scale convectively coupled equatorial disturbance that serves as a primary source of atmospheric predictability on intraseasonal time scales (30–90 days). Due to its dominance and spontaneous recurrence, the MJO has a significant global impact, influencing hurricanes in the tropics, storm tracks, and atmosphere blocking events in the midlatitudes, and even weather systems near the poles. Despite steady improvements in subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) forecast models, the MJO prediction skill has still not reached its maximum potential. The root of this challenge is partly due to our lack of understanding of how the MJO interacts with the background mean flow. In this work, we use a simple one-layer atmospheric model with idealized heating and vorticity sources to understand the impact of the subtropical jet on the MJO amplitude and its horizontal structure.