A Very Large, Spontaneous Stratospheric Sudden Warming in a Simple AGCM: A Prototype for the Southern Hemisphere Warming of 2002?

Kushner, Paul J.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

An exceptionally strong stratospheric sudden warming (SSW) that spontaneously occurs in a very simple stratosphere–troposphere AGCM is discussed. The model is a dry, hydrostatic, primitive equation model without planetary stationary waves. Transient baroclinic wave–wave interaction in the troposphere thus provides the only source of upward-propagating wave activity into the stratosphere. The model’s SSW is grossly similar to the Southern Hemisphere major SSW of 2002: it occurs after weaker warmings “precondition” the polar vortex for breaking, it involves a split of the polar vortex, and it has a downward-propagating signature. These similarities suggest that the Southern Hemisphere SSW of 2002 might itself have been caused by transient baroclinic wave–wave interaction. The simple model used for this study also provides some insight into how often such extreme events might occur. The frequency distribution of SSWs in the model has exponential, as opposed to Gaussian, tails. This suggests that very large amplitude SSWs, though rare, might occur with higher frequency than might be naively expected.


Also Published In

Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences