The role of tropopause polar vortices in the intensification of summer Arctic cyclones

Gray, Suzanne L.; Hodges, Kevin I.; Vautrey, Jonathan L.; Methven, John

Human activity in the Arctic is increasing as new regions become accessible, with a consequent need for improved understanding of hazardous weather there. Arctic cyclones are the major weather systems affecting the Arctic environment during summer, including the sea ice distribution. Mesoscale to synoptic-scale tropopause polar vortices (TPVs) frequently occur in polar regions and are a proposed mechanism for Arctic cyclone genesis and intensification. However, while the importance of pre-existing tropopause-level features for cyclone development, as well as being an integral part of the three-dimensional mature cyclone structure, is well established in the mid-latitudes, evidence of the importance of pre-existing TPVs for Arctic cyclone development is mainly limited to a few case studies. Here we examine the extent to which Arctic cyclone growth is coupled to TPVs by analysing a climatology of summer Arctic cyclones and TPVs produced by tracking both features in the latest ECMWF reanalysis (ERA5).

The annual counts of Arctic cyclones and TPVs are significantly correlated for features with genesis either within or outside the Arctic, implying that TPVs have a role in the development of Arctic cyclones. However, only about one-third of Arctic cyclones have their genesis or intensify while a TPV of Arctic origin is (instantaneously) within about twice the Rossby radius of the cyclone centre. Consistent with the different track densities of the full sets of Arctic cyclones and TPVs, cyclones with TPVs within range throughout their intensification phase (matched cyclones) track preferentially over the Arctic Ocean along the North American coastline and Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In contrast, cyclones intensifying distant from any TPV (unmatched cyclones) track preferentially along the northern coast of Eurasia. Composite analysis reveals the presence of a distinct relative vorticity maximum at and above the tropopause level associated with the TPV throughout the intensification period for matched cyclones and that these cyclones have a reduced upstream tilt compared to unmatched cyclones. Interaction of cyclones with TPVs has implications for the predictability of Arctic weather, given the long lifetime but relatively small spatial scale of TPVs compared with the density of the polar observation network.



Gray, Suzanne L. / Hodges, Kevin I. / Vautrey, Jonathan L. / et al: The role of tropopause polar vortices in the intensification of summer Arctic cyclones. 2021. Copernicus Publications.


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