Stratospheric Vacillations and the Major Warming over Antarctica in 2002
Abstract The conditions that lead to the major warming over Antarctica in late September 2002 are examined. In many respects, the warming resembled wave-2 warmings seen in the Northern Hemisphere; the winter cyclonic circulation was split into two smaller cyclones by a large amplitude planetary wave disturbance that appeared to propagate upward from the troposphere. However, in addition to this classic warming mechanism, distinctive stratospheric vacillations occurred throughout the preceding winter months. These vacillations in wave amplitude, Eliassen?Palm fluxes, and zonal-mean zonal winds are examined. By comparison with a numerical model experiment, it is shown that the vacillation is accompanied by a systematic weakening of the westerly winds over the season. This preconditions the Antarctic circulation, and it is argued that it allows anomalously strong vertical propagation of planetary waves from the troposphere into the stratosphere. By contrast, a survey of previous winters shows that stratospheric westerlies usually vary much more gradually, with vacillations only occurring for short periods of time, if at all, in a given winter. Similar vacillations in a numerical model of the stratosphere only occur if the forcing amplitude is above a certain value. However, the level of winter-mean wave activity entering the stratosphere during 2002 is not unprecedented, and there is still some uncertainty over the cause of the onset and persistence of the vacillation and, ultimately, the major warming.