National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

The polar vortex and extreme weather: the Beast from the East in winter 2018

Overland, J.E., R.J. Hall, E. Hanna, A. Karpechko, T. Vihma, M. Wang, and X. Zhang

Atmosphere, 11(6), 664, doi: 10.3390/atmos11060664, View online (open access) (2020)

Public attention has recently focused on high-impact extreme weather events in midlatitudes that originate in the sub-Arctic. We investigate movements of the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV) and related changes in lower atmospheric circulation during the February-March 2018 “Beast from the East” cold winter event that dramatically affected much of Europe and north-central North America. This study demonstrates that the movement of the SPV is a key linkage in late winter subarctic and northern midlatitude extreme weather events. February–March 2018 saw two types of subarctic-midlatitude weather connections. In the first type, the SPV was displaced from the pole to lower latitudes over North America in February and then was found over northern Siberia in March. Mid-February and mid-March are examples of persistent near vertically aligned geopotential height structures of the atmospheric circulation. These structures over North America and Eurasia advected cold Arctic air southward. The second type of cold surface event was associated with a weak regional SPV and a sudden stratospheric warming event over Europe during the second half of February. These late winter linkage events that arise through dynamic instabilities of the SPV are more common in the last decade, but the potential role of enhanced Arctic amplification is uncertain.

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