El Niño, La Niña, and Stratospheric Sudden Warmings: A Reevaluation in Light of the Observational Record

Butler, Amy H.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

Recent studies have suggested that El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) may have a considerable impact on Northern Hemisphere wintertime stratospheric conditions. Notably, during El Niño the stratosphere is warmer than during ENSO-neutral winters, and the polar vortex is weaker. Opposite-signed anomalies have been reported during La Niña, but are considerably smaller in amplitude than during El Niño. This has led to the perception that El Niño is able to substantially affect stratospheric conditions, but La Niña is of secondary importance. Here we revisit this issue, but focus on the extreme events that couple the troposphere to the stratosphere: major, mid-winter stratospheric sudden warmings (SSWs). We examine 53 years of reanalysis data and find, as expected, that SSWs are nearly twice as frequent during ENSO winters as during non-ENSO winters. Surprisingly, however, we also find that SSWs occur with equal probability during El Niño and La Niña winters. These findings corroborate the impact of ENSO on stratospheric variability, and highlight that both phases of ENSO are important in enhancing stratosphere-troposphere dynamical coupling via an increased frequency of SSWs.


Also Published In

Geophysical Research Letters