Tag Archives: Sudden stratospheric warming

How does an SSW affect London’s weather

There’s been much anticipation regarding the forthcoming sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event with many hoping that a resultant split vortex will result in unseasonably cold weather in the UK and… copious snow in the low-lying south-east.

An SSW event, which reverses winds high up in the atmosphere from a westerly to easterly, can downwell into the troposphere, bringing weather from a (usually) cold continent instead of the warm Atlantic.

While a split PV event is usually more conducive for cold weather in the UK, as opposed to a ‘displaced vortex’, which usually favours only the eastern US, it is by no means a guarantee of a cold pattern subsequently evolving.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 18.43.11Using results published in the paper Tropospheric Precursors and Stratospheric Warmings (Judah Cohen and Justin Jones), along with meteorological data for east London, I set out to find what influence past warmings had on the weather in the capital.

Looking 45 days either side of the central date for vortex splits gave the following, chaotic graph.


Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 18.08.00

But every year is different. And there appears to be more likelihood of an SSW making a difference, in terms of prompting a colder pattern, the earlier in the winter it occurs.

The SSW in 1985 was followed by a 45-day mean temperature anomaly of -3.8C! If you look at a shorter timescale, 15 days after a split PV and the anomaly is -10C on January 16th: -4.9C is the second coldest January day in Wanstead of the past 60 years.

At the other end of the scale the SSW event on March 23rd 1965 was followed by a POSITIVE anomaly of 3.4C. Perhaps solar influence this late in the year can override any SSW? Elsewhere, however, according to the website london-weather.eu: “3rd March – A combination of deep snow cover and clear skies allowed minimum temperatures to fall below -21C in northern Scotland.”

During another SSW in 2001 results in London were fairly unremarkable though heavy snow fell in Ireland.


Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 19.33.43
This graph shows a general downward trend in the 15 days following an SSW event

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.42.39The other result to consider is the influence from ENSO. It seems that when La Nina is ‘too negative’ this can ‘overcook’ proceedings and actually leave our part of the UK with a positive anomaly, as this table shows. It should be noted, however, that thicker Arctic ice in the 1960s would also possibly have had more influence than now.

There hasn’t been a full SSW event for years. The impact this one will have on our weather in London, a tiny part of the globe, is impossible to quantify. Though the latest model output is encouraging for anyone looking for a chilly end to winter.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 19.48.42

And here’s @wxcharts idea on two weeks from now.



‘SSW’ rumours and what it means for UK

Over the past few days there has been a lot of speculation on the possibility of a sudden stratospheric warming event happening. These events can contribute to unseasonably cold snaps in winter though exactly where their effects happen on the globe is impossible to forecast at small scale resolution. ssw

In short it looks like the eastern US is most likely to see any severe cold weather from this episode – what seems to happen a lot in recent winters in the UK.

Far from being an expert on this there was a very good posting on the usenet forum uk.sci.weather by Stephen Davenport.

“As far as the stratospheric warming is concerned, we’ve been keeping track of this for the last 1-2 weeks. Models have recently been consistent on this being a strong warming (10hPa 60-90 deg N zonal temperatures rising above 240K – see http://acdb-ext.gsfc.nasa.gov/Data_services/met/metdata/annual/merra/t60_90n_10_2015_merra.pdf).

“A temporary wind reversal is likely in the upper stratosphere; for example, see ECMWF at http://www.geo.fu-berlin.de/en/met/ag/strat/produkte/winterdiagnostics/, and have a look at the off-the-chart EPV (although not so much poleward). However, I do not see this as a major SSW (by definition) and everything points to a recovering but weaker circumpolar vortex mid-month onwards.

“Meanwhile, though, the vortex is being shunted off the pole by warming and big height rises firstly over Siberia then the Bering Sea, with exaggerated deformation which will see it extend far south across eastern North America and introduce cross-polar flow (which you can see here: http://www.tropicaltidbits.com/analysis/models/?model=gfs&region=nhem&pkg=Tz10&runtime=2016020412&fh=132&xpos=0&ypos=255).

“At 500hPa a very deep trough digs southwards east of the Mississippi as far as the Gulf of Mexico. GFS shows a -3 to -4 sigma anomaly over the Southeast with ECMWF similar but a little less deep: http://www.tropicaltidbits.com/analysis/models/?model=gfs&region=eus&pkg=z500a_sd&runtime=2016020412&fh=120&xpos=0&ypos=155

“That opens the door to Arctic air pouring far southwards, and there’ll be snow chances at least as far south as the Tennessee Valley. Incidentally there is a risk of another Nor’easter around Feb 9th-10th.

“Downstream a mid-Atlantic ridge could build rather strongly from the subtropical high towards Greenland with slowed zonal flow but most likely surface low pressure developments eastern Atlantic / near the British Isles.

“If the long wave pattern shifts a little eastwards then the increased meridionality *could* see LP progression pull in temporary subsequent N-NW flows for the UK – a more likely route to short-lived cold shots than via any high latitude blocking in the medium range.

“I think that elsewhere people have got hung up on the stratospheric warming and, as so often, drawn excitable conclusions. Cold impacts are more likely for the eastern U.S. than Europe with a displaced rather than a split vortex; and the circumpolar vortex was so strong first half of winter it was always going to take a lot to break it down fully. And sure enough, as noted there should be a recovery after this “attack”. You can see the vortex distortion and latterly the beginnings of recovery in this rather nice animation of 10hPa potential vorticity:


“And here are some 3D representations:


“GFS has occasionally pulled out a split vortex at various levels during the past week but doesn’t now.

“That’s not to say that a possible further warming (early final warming?) wouldn’t bring colder chances from the end of February into March.

“I was surprised to read recently that a well-known online forecaster had predicted significantly cold/blocked conditions for Europe in January via a major SSW. A bit premature, that.”