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  1. With winter fast approaching it is time for a new thread. It seems that the demand for a new strat thread gets earlier every year and this is the fifth winter that the strat thread will be running! As ever, the first post will become both a reference thread and basic learning thread for those wanting to understand how the stratosphere may affect the winter tropospheric pattern. And then I will have a look at how we may expect the stratosphere to behave this year. The stratosphere is the layer of the atmosphere situated between 10km and 50km above the earth. It is situated directly above the troposphere, the first layer of the atmosphere that is directly responsible for the weather that we receive. The boundary between the stratosphere and the troposphere is known as the tropopause. The air pressure ranges from around 100hPa at the lower levels of the stratosphere to around 1hPa at the upper levels. The middle stratosphere is often considered to be around the 10-30hPa level. Every winter the stratosphere cools down dramatically as less solar UV radiation is absorbed by the ozone content in the stratosphere. The difference in the temperature between the North Pole and the latitudes further south creates a strong vortex – the wintertime stratospheric polar vortex. The colder the stratosphere, the stronger this vortex becomes. The stratospheric vortex has a strong relationship with the tropospheric vortex below. The stronger the stratospheric vortex, the stronger the tropospheric vortex becomes. The strength and position of the tropospheric vortex influences the type of weather that we are likely to experience. A strong polar vortex is more likely to herald a positive AO with the resultant jet stream track bringing warmer wet southwesterly winds. A weaker polar vortex can contribute to a negative AO with the resultant mild wet weather tracking further south and a more blocked pattern the result. A negative AO will lead to a greater chance of colder air spreading to latitudes further south such as the UK. So cold lovers will look out for a warmer than average polar stratosphere. The stratosphere is a far more stable environment then the troposphere below it. However, there are certain influences that can bring about changes - the stratospheric ozone content, the phase of the solar cycle, the Quasi Biennial Oscillation ( the QBO), wave breaking events from the troposphere and the autumnal Eurasion/Siberian snow cover to name but a few. The ozone content in the polar stratosphere has been shown to be destroyed by CFC's permeating to the stratosphere from the troposphere but there can be other influences as well. Ozone is important because it absorbs UV radiation which creates warming of the stratosphere. The Ozone is formed in the tropical stratosphere and transported to the polar stratosphere by a system known as the Brewer-Dobson -Circulation. The strength of this circulation varies from year to year and can in turn be dictated by other influences. One of these influences is the QBO. This is a tropical stratospheric wind that descends in an easterly then westerly direction over a period of around 28 months. This can have a direct influence on the strength of the polar vortex in itself. The easterly (negative ) phase is though to contribute to a weakening of the stratospheric polar vortex, whilst a westerly (positive) phase is thought to increase the strength of the stratospheric vortex. However, in reality the exact timing and positioning of the QBO is not precise and the timing of the descending wave is critical throughout the winter. The direction of the QBO when combined with the level of solar flux has been shown to influence the BDC. When the QBO is in a west phase during solar maximum there are more warming events (increased strength BDC) in the stratosphere as there is during an easterly phase QBO during solar minimum.( http://strat-www.met.fu-berlin.de/labitzke/moreqbo/MZ-Labitzke-et-al-2006.pdf) (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50424/abstract) The QBO is measured at 30 hPa and has entered a westerly phase for this winter. 10 out of 11 warming events that have occurred during a wQBO have occurred at a solar maximum. Even though we are seeing a quiet maximum one would expect a slightly increased chance of a warming event this winter. One warming event that can occur in the stratospheric winter is a Sudden Stratospheric Warming ( SSW) or also known as a Major Midwinter Warming (MMW). This as the name suggests a rather dramatic event. Normally the polar night jet at the boundary of the polar vortex demarcates the boundary between warmer tropical and cooler polar stratospheric air (and ozone levels) and is very difficult to penetrate. SSWs can be caused by large-scale planetary waves being deflected up into the stratosphere and towards the North Pole, often after a strong mountain torque event. These waves can introduce warmer temperatures into the polar stratosphere and can seriously disrupt the stratospheric vortex, leading to a slowing or even reversal of the vortex. This can occur by the vortex being displaced off the pole – a displacement SSW, or by the vortex being split in two – a splitting SSW. The SSW will be triggered by the preceding tropospheric pattern - in fact the preceding troposheric pattern is important in disturbing the stratospheric vortex even without creating a SSW. Consider a tropospheric pattern where the flow is very zonal - rather like the positive AO phase in the diagram above. There has to be a mechanism to achieve a more negative AO or meridional pattern from this scenario and there is but it is not straightforward. It just doesn't occur without some type of driving mechanism. Yes, we need to look at the stratosphere - but if the stratosphere is already cold and a strong polar vortex established then we need to look back into the troposphere. In some years the stratosphere will be more receptive to tropospheric interactions than others (such as the eQBO) but we will still need a kick start from the troposphere to feedback into the stratosphere. The kick start often will come from the tropics in the form of pulses of convection interacting with slight undulations in the polar vortex which influence the positions of the sub tropical jet stream and polar jet streams respectively. The exact positioning of the large scale undulations ( or Rossby waves) will be influenced by (amongst other things) the pulses of tropical convection ( aka the phase of the MJO) and that is why we monitor that so closely. These waves will interact with land masses and mountain ranges which can absorb or deflect the Rossby waves disrupting the wave pattern further - and this interaction and feedback between the tropical and polar systems is the basis of how the Global Wind Oscillation influences the global patterns. The ENSO state can affect this - giving us the underling atmospheric base state . If the deflection of the Rossby Wave is great enough then the wave can be deflected into the stratosphere. This occurs a number of times during a typical winter and is more pronounced in the NH due to the greater land mass area. Most wave deflections into the stratosphere do change the stratospheric vortex flow pattern - this will be greater if the stratosphere is more receptive to these wave breaks ( and if they are substantial enough, then a SSW can occur). The change in the stratospheric flow pattern can then start to feedback into the troposphere - changing the zonal flow pattern into something with more undulations and perhaps ultimately to a very meridional flow pattern especially if a SSW occurs - but not always. The effects of a SSW can be transmitted into the troposphere as the propagation of the SSW occurs and this can have a number of consequences. There is a higher incidence of northern blocking after SSW’s but we are all aware that not every SSW leads to northern blocking. Any northern blocking can lead to cold air from the tropospheric Arctic flooding south and colder conditions to latitudes further south can ensue. There is often thought to be a time lag between a SSW and northern blocking from any downward propagation of negative mean zonal winds from the stratosphere. This has been quoted as up to 6 weeks though it can be a lot quicker if the polar vortex is ripped in two following a split SSW. One noticeable aspect of the recent previous winters is how the stratosphere has been susceptible to wave breaking from the troposphere through the lower reaches of the polar stratosphere - not over the top as seen in the SSWs. This has led to periods of sustained tropospheric high latitude blocking and repeated lower disruption of the stratospheric polar vortex. This has coincided with a warmer stratosphere where the mean zonal winds have been reduced and has led to some of the most potent winter spells witnessed in recent years. We have also seen in recent years following Cohen's work the importance of the rate of Eurasian snow gain during October at latitudes below 60ºN. If this is above average then there is enhanced feedback from the troposphere into the stratosphere through the Rossby wave breaking pattern described above. And it appears that the reduction in Arctic sea ice may be contributing to this mechanism and this should be factored in to any forecast. So what are we likely to expect this year. Well, so far we know some of the factors. There is a wQBO combined with probable ENSO neutral conditions and even though we are at a possible solar maximum, this is about half the maximum seen in recent times. However, I think that there is still a strong possibility that we will see a SSW - possibly late January or early February this winter. Using similar years analogues we can help predict the likely stratospheric conditions for this year. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of comparable years that meet the above data - but at least we can get an idea. And with another low Arctic sea ice year and early snow gain already then perhaps by the end of the month confidence can increase. Here is the predicted stratospheric height anomaly pattern for this winter at 30 hPa. November Here we see a strong central vortex beginning to build that is well established by Dec December However the height anomaly at latitudes south of the vortex suggest to me that there is some wave propagation from the troposphere - and this builds through January January before overwhelming the vortex and weakening it during February ( remember that the anomaly's are for the whole month and the vortex will have recovered somewhat from any warming episode) February - Split type SSW? The suggested pattern of warming at 30 hPa for January and February are as follows: January Feb So, during the coming months we will need to keep an eye on all the stratospheric data. Here are the links: Forecasts: ECM http://www.geo.fu-berlin.de/en/met/ag/strat/produkte/winterdiagnostics/index.html GFS http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/stratosphere/strat_a_f/ and here: http://www.netweather.tv/index.cgi?action=stratosphere;sess=75784a98eafe97c5977e66aa65ae7d28 http://www.instantweathermaps.com/GFS-php/strat.php Analysis here: http://acdb-ext.gsfc.nasa.gov/Data_services/met/ann_data.html and here: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/stratosphere/strat-trop/ Many papers for further reading found here: http://forum.netweather.tv/topic/73911-technical-teleconnective-papers/ Fingers crossed for another exciting and productive stratospheric watch this winter. c
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