A New Look at Stratospheric Sudden Warmings. Part I: Climatology and
Modeling Benchmarks

Charlton, Andrew J.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

Stratospheric sudden warmings are the clearest and strongest manifestation of dynamical coupling in the stratosphere–troposphere system. While many sudden warmings have been individually documented in the literature, this study aims at constructing a comprehensive climatology: all major midwinter warming events are identified and classified, in both the NCEP–NCAR and 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) datasets. To accomplish this a new, objective identification algorithm is developed. This algorithm identifies sudden warmings based on the zonal mean zonal wind at 60°N and 10 hPa, and classifies them into events that do and do not split the stratospheric polar vortex.
Major midwinter stratospheric sudden warmings are found to occur with a frequency of approximately six events per decade, and 46% of warming events lead to a splitting of the stratospheric polar vortex. The dynamics of vortex splitting events is contrasted to that of events where the vortex is merely displaced off the pole. In the stratosphere, the two types of events are found to be dynamically distinct: vortex splitting events occur after a clear preconditioning of the polar vortex, and their influence on middle-stratospheric temperatures lasts for up to 20 days longer than vortex displacement events. In contrast, the influence of sudden warmings on the tropospheric state is found to be largely insensitive to the event type.
Finally, a table of dynamical benchmarks for major stratospheric sudden warming events is compiled. These benchmarks are used in a companion study to evaluate current numerical model simulations of the stratosphere.


Also Published In

Journal of Climate


Includes Corrigendum (1 page).