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The Role of a Tropopause Polar Vortex in the Generation of the January 2019 Extreme Arctic Outbreak

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  • 1 a School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

An extreme Arctic cold air outbreak took place across the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast during 29 January to 1 February 2019. The event broke numerous long-standing records with wide-reaching and detrimental societal impacts. This study found that this rare and dangerous cold air outbreak (CAO) was a direct consequence of a tropopause polar vortex (TPV) originating at high latitudes and subsequently tracking southward into the United States. The tropopause depression at the center of this TPV extended nearly to the surface. Simulations using the atmospheric component of the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) were conducted, revealing excellent predictability at 6–7-day lead times with the strength, timing, and location of the CAO linked to the earlier characteristics of the TPV over the Arctic. Within the middle latitudes, the TPV subsequently developed a tilt with height. Warming and the destruction of potential vorticity also took place as the TPV passed over the Great Lakes initiating a lake-effect snow storm. The climatological investigation of CAOs suggests that TPVs frequently play a role in CAOs over North America with a TPV located within 1000 km of a CAO 85% of the time. These TPVs tended to originate in the northern Canadian Arctic and are ejected equatorward into the Great Lakes/Upper Midwest and then to the Northeast over Labrador. This study also provides insight into how the impact of Arctic circulations on middle latitudes may vary within the framework of a rapidly changing Arctic.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: David B. Parsons, dparsons@ou.edu

Abstract

An extreme Arctic cold air outbreak took place across the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast during 29 January to 1 February 2019. The event broke numerous long-standing records with wide-reaching and detrimental societal impacts. This study found that this rare and dangerous cold air outbreak (CAO) was a direct consequence of a tropopause polar vortex (TPV) originating at high latitudes and subsequently tracking southward into the United States. The tropopause depression at the center of this TPV extended nearly to the surface. Simulations using the atmospheric component of the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) were conducted, revealing excellent predictability at 6–7-day lead times with the strength, timing, and location of the CAO linked to the earlier characteristics of the TPV over the Arctic. Within the middle latitudes, the TPV subsequently developed a tilt with height. Warming and the destruction of potential vorticity also took place as the TPV passed over the Great Lakes initiating a lake-effect snow storm. The climatological investigation of CAOs suggests that TPVs frequently play a role in CAOs over North America with a TPV located within 1000 km of a CAO 85% of the time. These TPVs tended to originate in the northern Canadian Arctic and are ejected equatorward into the Great Lakes/Upper Midwest and then to the Northeast over Labrador. This study also provides insight into how the impact of Arctic circulations on middle latitudes may vary within the framework of a rapidly changing Arctic.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: David B. Parsons, dparsons@ou.edu
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