Similarity and variability of blocked weather-regime dynamics in the Atlantic–European region

Abstract

Weather regimes govern an important part of the sub-seasonal variability of the mid-latitude circulation. Due to their role in weather extremes and atmospheric predictability, regimes that feature a blocking anticyclone are of particular interest. This study investigates the dynamics of these “blocked” regimes in the North Atlantic–European region from a year-round perspective. For a comprehensive diagnostic, wave activity concepts and a piecewise potential vorticity (PV) tendency framework are combined. The latter essentially quantifies the well-established PV perspective of mid-latitude dynamics. The four blocked regimes (namely Atlantic ridge, European blocking, Scandinavian blocking, and Greenland blocking) during the 1979–2021 period of ERA5 reanalysis are considered. Wave activity characteristics exhibit distinct differences between blocked regimes. After regime onset, Greenland blocking is associated with a suppression of wave activity flux, whereas Atlantic ridge and European blocking are associated with a northward deflection of the flux without a clear net change. During onset, the envelope of Rossby wave activity retracts upstream for Greenland blocking, whereas the envelope extends downstream for Atlantic ridge and European blocking. Scandinavian blocking exhibits intermediate wave activity characteristics. From the perspective of piecewise PV tendencies projected onto the respective regime pattern, the dynamics that govern regime onset exhibit a large degree of similarity: linear Rossby wave dynamics and nonlinear eddy PV fluxes dominate and are of approximately equal relative importance, whereas baroclinic coupling and divergent amplification make minor contributions. Most strikingly, all blocked regimes exhibit very similar (intra-regime) variability: a retrograde and an upstream pathway to regime onset. The retrograde pathway is dominated by nonlinear PV eddy fluxes, whereas the upstream pathway is dominated by linear Rossby wave dynamics. Importantly, there is a large degree of cancellation between the two pathways for some of the mechanisms before regime onset. The physical meaning of a regime-mean perspective before onset can thus be severely limited. Implications of our results for understanding predictability of blocked regimes are discussed. Further discussed are the limitations of projected tendencies in capturing the importance of moist-baroclinic growth, which tends to occur in regions where the amplitude of the regime pattern, and thus the projection onto it, is small. Finally, it is stressed that this study investigates the variability of the governing dynamics without prior empirical stratification of data by season or by type of regime transition. It is demonstrated, however, that our dynamics-centered approach does not merely reflect variability that is associated with these factors. The main modes of dynamical variability revealed herein and the large similarity of the blocked regimes in exhibiting this variability are thus significant results.</p

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