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  1. Abstract

    This paper examines probability distributions oflocal wave activity(LWA), a measure of the jet stream's meander, and factors that control them. The observed column‐mean LWA distributions exhibit significant seasonal, interhemispheric, and regional variations but are always positively skewed in the extratropics, and their tail often involves disruptions of the jet stream. A previously derived one‐dimensional (1D) traffic flow model driven by observed spectra of transient eddy forcing qualitatively reproduces the shape of the observed LWA distribution. It is shown that the skewed distribution emerges from nonlinearity in the zonal advection of LWA even though the eddy forcing is symmetrically distributed. A slower jet and stronger transient and stationary eddy forcings, when introduced independently, all broaden the LWA distribution and increase the probability of spontaneous jet disruption. A quasigeostrophic two‐layer model also simulates skewed LWA distributions in the upper layer. However, in the two‐layer model both transient eddy forcing and the jet speed increase with an increasing shear (meridional temperature gradient), and their opposing influence leaves the frequency of jet disruptions insensitive to the vertical shear. When the model's nonlinearity in the zonal flux of potential vorticity is artificially suppressed, it hinders wave‐flow interaction and virtually eliminates reversal of the upper‐layermore »zonal wind. The study underscores the importance of nonlinearity in the zonal transmission of Rossby waves to the frequency of jet disruptions and associated weather anomalies.

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  2. This paper examines the role of wave–mean flow interaction in the onset and suddenness of stratospheric sudden warmings (SSWs). Evidence is presented that SSWs are, on average, a threshold behavior of finite-amplitude Rossby waves arising from the competition between an increasing wave activity A and a decreasing zonal-mean zonal wind [Formula: see text]. The competition puts a limit to the wave activity flux that a stationary Rossby wave can transmit upward. A rapid, spontaneous vortex breakdown occurs once the upwelling wave activity flux reaches the limit, or equivalently, once [Formula: see text] drops below a certain fraction of u REF , a wave-free, reference-state wind inverted from the zonalized quasigeostrophic potential vorticity. This fraction is 0.5 in theory and about 0.3 in reanalyses. We propose [Formula: see text] as a local, instantaneous measure of the proximity to vortex breakdown (i.e., preconditioning). The ratio r generally stays above the threshold during strong-vortex winters until a pronounced final warming, whereas during weak-vortex winters it approaches the threshold early in the season, culminating in a precipitous drop in midwinter as SSWs form. The essence of the threshold behavior is captured by a semiempirical 1D model of SSWs, similar to the “traffic jam” modelmore »of Nakamura and Huang for atmospheric blocking. This model predicts salient features of SSWs including rapid vortex breakdown and downward migration of the wave activity/zonal wind anomalies, with analytical expressions for the respective time scales. The model’s response to a variety of transient wave forcing and damping is discussed.« less