6A.3 The Sinuosity of Atmospheric Circulation over North America and Its Relationship to Arctic Climate Change and Extreme Events

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 4:00 PM
La Nouvelle C ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Stephen J. Vavrus, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI; and F. Wang, J. E. Martin, and J. Francis

Recent research has suggested a relationship between mid-latitude weather and Arctic amplification (AA) of global climate change via a slower and wavier extratropical circulation inducing more extreme events. To test this hypothesis and to quantify the waviness of the extratropical flow, we apply a novel application of the geomorphological concept of sinuosity (SIN) over greater North America. SIN is defined as the ratio of the curvilinear length of a geopotential height contour to the perimeter of its equivalent latitude, where the contour and the equivalent latitude enclose the same area. We use 500 hPa daily heights from reanalysis and model simulations to calculate past and future SIN.

The circulation exhibits a distinct annual cycle of maximum SIN (waviness) in summer and a minimum in winter, inversely related to the annual cycle of zonal wind speed. Positive trends in SIN have emerged in recent decades during winter and summer at several latitude bands, generally collocated with negative trends in zonal wind speeds. High values of SIN coincide with many prominent extreme-weather events, including Superstorm Sandy.

RCP8.5 simulations (2006-2100) project a dipole pattern of zonal wind changes that varies seasonally. In winter, AA causes inflated heights over the Arctic relative to mid-latitudes and an associated weakening (strengthening) of the westerlies north (south) of 40N. The AA signal in summer is strongest over upper-latitude land, promoting localized atmospheric ridging aloft with lighter westerlies to the south and stronger zonal winds to the north. The changes in wind speeds in both seasons are inversely correlated with SIN, indicating a wavier circulation where the flow weakens. In summer the lighter winds over much of the U. S. resemble circulation anomalies observed during extreme summer heat and drought. Such changes may be linked to enhanced heating of upper-latitude land surfaces caused by earlier snow melt during spring-summer.

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