Dynamical and surface impacts of the January 2021 sudden stratospheric warming in novel Aeolus wind observations, MLS and ERA5

Corwin Wright, Richard J. Hall, Timothy Banyard, Neil Hindley, Isabell Krisch, Daniel M. Mitchell, William J.M. Seviour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)


Major sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are extreme dynamical events where the usual strong westerly winds of the stratospheric polar vortex temporarily weaken or reverse and polar stratospheric temperatures rise by tens of kelvins over just a few days and remain so for an extended period. Via dynamical modification of the atmosphere below them, SSWs are believed to be a key contributor to extreme winter weather events at the surface over the following weeks. SSW-induced changes to the wind structure of the polar vortex have previously been studied in models and reanalyses and in localised measurements such as radiosondes and radars but have not previously been directly and systematically observed on a global scale because of the major technical challenges involved in observing winds from space. Here, we exploit novel observations from ESA's flagship Aeolus wind-profiler mission, together with temperature and geopotential height data from NASA's Microwave Limb Sounder and surface variables from the ERA5 reanalysis, to study the 2021 SSW. This allows us to directly examine wind and related dynamical changes associated with the January 2021 major SSW. Aeolus is the first satellite mission to systematically and directly acquire profiles of wind, and therefore our results represent the first direct measurements of SSW-induced wind changes at the global scale. We see a complete reversal of the zonal winds in the lower to middle stratosphere, with reversed winds in some geographic regions reaching down to the bottom 2 km of the atmosphere. These altered winds are associated with major changes to surface temperature patterns, and in particular we see a strong potential linkage from the SSW to extreme winter weather outbreaks in Greece and Texas during late January and early February. Our results (1) demonstrate the benefits of wind-profiling satellites such as Aeolus in terms of both their direct measurement capability and use in supporting reanalysis-driven interpretation of stratosphere–troposphere coupling signatures, (2) provide a detailed dynamical description of a major weather event, and (3) have implications for the development of Earth-system models capable of accurately forecasting extreme winter weather.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1283–1301
JournalWeather and Climate Dynamics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021


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