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Vivien Matthias and Marlene Kretschmer


Understanding and predicting midlatitude cold spells is of scientific and public interest, given often associated severe impacts. However, large-scale atmospheric dynamics related to these events are not fully understood. The winter of 2017/18 was characterized by several cold spells affecting large parts of North America and Eurasia. Here, the role of stratosphere–troposphere coupling for the occurrence of cold spells in this winter is investigated using different wave propagation diagnostics. While the European cold spell in late February 2018 was influenced by a major sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) associated with wave absorption, the cold spells over North America at the end of December 2017 and early February 2018 were related to downward reflected waves over the North Pacific. Previously proposed wave reflection indices, however, either miss these reflection events or are not able to distinguish them from the major SSW related to wave absorption. To overcome this, a novel simple index based on eddy heat flux is proposed here, capturing regional wave reflection over the North Pacific. Reflection events detected with this index are shown to be followed by North Pacific blocking and negative temperature anomalies over North America. An improved understanding of the contribution of wave reflection for cold spells is crucial to better predict such events in the future.

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Marlene Kretschmer, Dim Coumou, Jonathan F. Donges, and Jakob Runge


In recent years, the Northern Hemisphere midlatitudes have suffered from severe winters like the extreme 2012/13 winter in the eastern United States. These cold spells were linked to a meandering upper-tropospheric jet stream pattern and a negative Arctic Oscillation index (AO). However, the nature of the drivers behind these circulation patterns remains controversial. Various studies have proposed different mechanisms related to changes in the Arctic, most of them related to a reduction in sea ice concentrations or increasing Eurasian snow cover.

Here, a novel type of time series analysis, called causal effect networks (CEN), based on graphical models is introduced to assess causal relationships and their time delays between different processes. The effect of different Arctic actors on winter circulation on weekly to monthly time scales is studied, and robust network patterns are found. Barents and Kara sea ice concentrations are detected to be important external drivers of the midlatitude circulation, influencing winter AO via tropospheric mechanisms and through processes involving the stratosphere. Eurasia snow cover is also detected to have a causal effect on sea level pressure in Asia, but its exact role on AO remains unclear. The CEN approach presented in this study overcomes some difficulties in interpreting correlation analyses, complements model experiments for testing hypotheses involving teleconnections, and can be used to assess their validity. The findings confirm that sea ice concentrations in autumn in the Barents and Kara Seas are an important driver of winter circulation in the midlatitudes.

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Marlene Kretschmer, Dim Coumou, Laurie Agel, Mathew Barlow, Eli Tziperman, and Judah Cohen


The extratropical stratosphere in boreal winter is characterized by a strong circumpolar westerly jet, confining the coldest temperatures at high latitudes. The jet, referred to as the stratospheric polar vortex, is predominantly zonal and centered around the pole; however, it does exhibit large variability in wind speed and location. Previous studies showed that a weak stratospheric polar vortex can lead to cold-air outbreaks in the midlatitudes, but the exact relationships and mechanisms are unclear. Particularly, it is unclear whether stratospheric variability has contributed to the observed anomalous cooling trends in midlatitude Eurasia. Using hierarchical clustering, we show that over the last 37 years, the frequency of weak vortex states in mid- to late winter (January and February) has increased, which was accompanied by subsequent cold extremes in midlatitude Eurasia. For this region, 60% of the observed cooling in the era of Arctic amplification, that is, since 1990, can be explained by the increased frequency of weak stratospheric polar vortex states, a number that increases to almost 80% when El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability is included as well.

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