Surface hazards in North-west Europe following sudden stratospheric warming events

Richard J. Hall, Dann M. Mitchell, William J.M. Seviour, Corwin J. Wright

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2 Citations (SciVal)


Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) have been linked to surface temperature anomalies, but how these connect to changes in the likelihood of specific weather extremes and their associated weather patterns remains uncertain. While, on average, it is true that cold surface temperatures follow SSW events, particularly in Northern Europe, there is considerable event-to-event variability. Over the British Isles and Central Europe, only around 45% of SSWs are followed by a colder than average period and a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, cautioning against an over-generalised approach to surface anomalies associated with SSWs. Focussing on more hazardous weather, which in winter is associated with cold extremes, we use reanalysis data to consider how SSWs impact temperature-related hazards; namely the frequency of snowy days, frost days and spells of extreme cold weather in 12 major European cities. In general, SSWs are associated with an increased risk of snow across most of western Europe, and that this is particularly significant in milder, more maritime locations such as London where in reanalysis, snowfall days are 40% more likely after an SSW. However, there is considerable variation in surface temperature anomalies between SSW events; the third of SSWs with the warmest surface anomalies are statistically more likely to have a decreased risk of snow, frost and persistent cold spells compared with non-SSW time periods. These warmer events are associated with a different temperature anomaly pattern, which is consistent in both reanalysis data and large ensemble CMIP6 models. We further show that these warm surface temperature anomaly SSWs are becoming more frequent, a trend which is consistent with background global warming. The varied surface anomalies associated with SSWs highlights the need to study their impacts in a probabilistic sense, and motivates further work to enable better prediction of the impacts of a given event.

Original languageEnglish
Article number064002
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
Early online date10 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge funding from the NERC ‘PEGASUS’ project, Grant No. NE/S00985X/1. C J W acknowledges Royal Society University Research Fellowship UF160545. We thank three anonymous reviewers, whose helpful comments greatly improved the manuscript.

Data availability statement
ERA5 data are available from the Copernicus Climate Data Store ( CMIP6 data were accessed at the Centre for Environmental Analysis (CEDA) archive at JASMIN ( but are also freely available from the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) (https://esgf-index1.ceda.acuk/projects/esgf-ceda/).


  • hazards
  • sudden stratospheric warmings
  • surface weather impacts
  • weather patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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