Was the 2015 North Atlantic subpolar cold anomaly predictable?

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin Madison
  • 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA
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Abstract

The subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA) experienced extreme cold during 2015, an event often called the “cold blob”. The evolution of this event in the Community Earth System Model version 1 Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble (CESM1-DPLE) hindcast initialized in November 2014 is compared to observations. This CESM1-DPLE hindcast failed to predict cold conditions during 2015 despite already cold SPNA initial conditions and despite having high sea surface temperature skill in the SPNA in all other years. The goal of this paper is to understand what led to this prediction failure in order to provide insight for future decadal prediction efforts. Our analysis shows that strongly positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) conditions during winter and spring 2015 likely sustained the cold blob but were not simulated in any CESM1-DPLE members. We examine the rarity of the 2015 event using the CESM1-DPLE’s uninitialized counterpart, the CESM1 Large Ensemble (CESM1-LE). Results from the CESM1-LE indicate that the exceptional state of the observed NAO in the winter of 2015 is at least part of the explanation for why this event was not encompassed in the CESM1-DPLE spread. To test another possibility — that deficiencies in the initial conditions degraded the prediction — we performed additional hindcasts using the CESM1-DPLE protocol but different initial conditions. Altering the initial conditions did not improve the simulation of the 2015 cold blob, and in some cases, degraded it. Given the difficulty of predicting this event, this case could be a useful testbed for future prediction system development.

Corresponding author address: Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA. E-mail: emaroon@wisc.edu

Abstract

The subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA) experienced extreme cold during 2015, an event often called the “cold blob”. The evolution of this event in the Community Earth System Model version 1 Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble (CESM1-DPLE) hindcast initialized in November 2014 is compared to observations. This CESM1-DPLE hindcast failed to predict cold conditions during 2015 despite already cold SPNA initial conditions and despite having high sea surface temperature skill in the SPNA in all other years. The goal of this paper is to understand what led to this prediction failure in order to provide insight for future decadal prediction efforts. Our analysis shows that strongly positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) conditions during winter and spring 2015 likely sustained the cold blob but were not simulated in any CESM1-DPLE members. We examine the rarity of the 2015 event using the CESM1-DPLE’s uninitialized counterpart, the CESM1 Large Ensemble (CESM1-LE). Results from the CESM1-LE indicate that the exceptional state of the observed NAO in the winter of 2015 is at least part of the explanation for why this event was not encompassed in the CESM1-DPLE spread. To test another possibility — that deficiencies in the initial conditions degraded the prediction — we performed additional hindcasts using the CESM1-DPLE protocol but different initial conditions. Altering the initial conditions did not improve the simulation of the 2015 cold blob, and in some cases, degraded it. Given the difficulty of predicting this event, this case could be a useful testbed for future prediction system development.

Corresponding author address: Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA. E-mail: emaroon@wisc.edu
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