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A Genesis Potential Index for Polar Lows

Kevin BoydaUniversity of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

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Zhuo WangaUniversity of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

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John E. WalshbUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

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Abstract

Polar lows (PLs) are intense maritime mesocyclones that typically develop during marine cold-air outbreak events over the high latitudes. The impacts posed by these systems to humans and the broader environment demand a robust understanding of the environmental factors that promote PL formation and, in turn, skillful prediction of PL activity. We hypothesize that the variability of PL activity is associated with some key large-scale climate variables skewed toward “extreme” values, which can provide predictable information on PL activity beyond the synoptic time scale. A PL genesis potential index (PGI) is developed that relates the climatological spatial distribution of PL genesis frequency and key climate variables in a Poisson regression framework. The optimal set of predictors consists of a static stability parameter and an environmental baroclinicity parameter. The optimal predictor categories are shown to be robust across different reanalyses and PL track datasets. The observed spatial distribution and seasonal cycle of PL genesis frequency are represented well by the PGI, and the interannual variability of PL activity is captured skillfully. The effects of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and a few other climate modes on the interannual variability of PL activity are explored. Overall, our results suggest that the PGI may be used to inform skillful subseasonal to seasonal prediction of PL activity.

Significance Statement

Polar lows are intense mesocyclones over high-latitude oceans, and they have destructive impacts on coastal and island communities, and maritime and air operations. However, skillful prediction of polar lows on the subseasonal and longer time scales remains challenging. This study links polar low activity to large-scale environmental conditions in the Arctic through a statistical modeling approach. This work is based on the hypothesis that a shared statistical relationship exists between the large-scale climate variables and polar low activity across the Arctic, which enables a geographical unification of the controlling factors on polar low activity. Our results reveal two dominant factors, one related to the lower-tropospheric stratification and the other to the hydrodynamic instability of the lower-tropospheric flow. This statistical framework has potential applications to climate prediction and projection of polar low activity.

© 2022 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: Zhuo Wang, zhuowang@illinois.edu

Abstract

Polar lows (PLs) are intense maritime mesocyclones that typically develop during marine cold-air outbreak events over the high latitudes. The impacts posed by these systems to humans and the broader environment demand a robust understanding of the environmental factors that promote PL formation and, in turn, skillful prediction of PL activity. We hypothesize that the variability of PL activity is associated with some key large-scale climate variables skewed toward “extreme” values, which can provide predictable information on PL activity beyond the synoptic time scale. A PL genesis potential index (PGI) is developed that relates the climatological spatial distribution of PL genesis frequency and key climate variables in a Poisson regression framework. The optimal set of predictors consists of a static stability parameter and an environmental baroclinicity parameter. The optimal predictor categories are shown to be robust across different reanalyses and PL track datasets. The observed spatial distribution and seasonal cycle of PL genesis frequency are represented well by the PGI, and the interannual variability of PL activity is captured skillfully. The effects of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and a few other climate modes on the interannual variability of PL activity are explored. Overall, our results suggest that the PGI may be used to inform skillful subseasonal to seasonal prediction of PL activity.

Significance Statement

Polar lows are intense mesocyclones over high-latitude oceans, and they have destructive impacts on coastal and island communities, and maritime and air operations. However, skillful prediction of polar lows on the subseasonal and longer time scales remains challenging. This study links polar low activity to large-scale environmental conditions in the Arctic through a statistical modeling approach. This work is based on the hypothesis that a shared statistical relationship exists between the large-scale climate variables and polar low activity across the Arctic, which enables a geographical unification of the controlling factors on polar low activity. Our results reveal two dominant factors, one related to the lower-tropospheric stratification and the other to the hydrodynamic instability of the lower-tropospheric flow. This statistical framework has potential applications to climate prediction and projection of polar low activity.

© 2022 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: Zhuo Wang, zhuowang@illinois.edu

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