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North Atlantic SST Anomalies and the Cold North European Weather Events of Winter 2009/10 and December 2010

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  • 1 National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Northern Europe experienced consecutive periods of extreme cold weather in the winter of 2009/10 and in late 2010. These periods were characterized by a tripole pattern in North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and exceptionally negative phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). A global ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (OAGCM) is used to investigate the ocean’s role in influencing North Atlantic and European climate. Observed SST anomalies are used to force the atmospheric model and the resultant changes in atmospheric conditions over northern Europe are examined. Different atmospheric responses occur in the winter of 2009/10 and the early winter of 2010. These experiments suggest that North Atlantic SST anomalies did not significantly affect the development of the negative NAO phase in the cold winter of 2009/10. However, in November and December 2010 the large-scale North Atlantic SST anomaly pattern leads to a significant shift in the atmospheric circulation over the North Atlantic toward a NAO negative phase. Therefore, these results indicate that SST anomalies in November/December 2010 were particularly conducive to the development of a negative NAO phase, which culminated in the extreme cold weather conditions experienced over northern Europe in December 2010.

Corresponding author address: Jian Buchan, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. E-mail: jrb1g10@soton.ac.uk

Abstract

Northern Europe experienced consecutive periods of extreme cold weather in the winter of 2009/10 and in late 2010. These periods were characterized by a tripole pattern in North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies and exceptionally negative phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). A global ocean–atmosphere general circulation model (OAGCM) is used to investigate the ocean’s role in influencing North Atlantic and European climate. Observed SST anomalies are used to force the atmospheric model and the resultant changes in atmospheric conditions over northern Europe are examined. Different atmospheric responses occur in the winter of 2009/10 and the early winter of 2010. These experiments suggest that North Atlantic SST anomalies did not significantly affect the development of the negative NAO phase in the cold winter of 2009/10. However, in November and December 2010 the large-scale North Atlantic SST anomaly pattern leads to a significant shift in the atmospheric circulation over the North Atlantic toward a NAO negative phase. Therefore, these results indicate that SST anomalies in November/December 2010 were particularly conducive to the development of a negative NAO phase, which culminated in the extreme cold weather conditions experienced over northern Europe in December 2010.

Corresponding author address: Jian Buchan, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom. E-mail: jrb1g10@soton.ac.uk
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