Why might stratospheric sudden warmings occur with similar frequency in El Nio and la Nia winters?

C. I. Garfinkel*, A. H. Butler, D. W. Waugh, M. M. Hurwitz, L. M. Polvani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


The effect of El Nio-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on the frequency and character of Northern Hemisphere major mid-winter stratospheric sudden warmings (SSWs) is evaluated using a meteorological reanalysis data set and comprehensive chemistry-climate models. There is an apparent inconsistency between the impact of opposite phases of ENSO on the seasonal mean vortex and on SSWs: El Nio leads to an anomalously warm, and La Nia leads to an anomalously cool, seasonal mean polar stratospheric state, but both phases of ENSO lead to an increased SSW frequency. A resolution to this apparent paradox is here proposed: the region in the North Pacific most strongly associated with precursors of SSWs is not strongly influenced by El Nio and La Nia teleconnections. In the observational record, both La Nia and El Nio lead to similar anomalies in the region associated with precursors of SSWs and, consistent with this, there is a similar SSW frequency in La Nia and El Nio winters. A similar correspondence between the penetration of ENSO teleconnections into the SSW precursor region and SSW frequency is found in the comprehensive chemistry-climate models. The inability of some of the models to capture the observed relationship between La Nia and SSW frequency appears related to whether the modeled ENSO teleconnections result in extreme anomalies in the region most closely associated with SSWs. Finally, it is confirmed that the seasonal mean polar vortex response to ENSO is only weakly related to the relative frequency of SSWs during El Nio and La Nia.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberD19106
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number19
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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