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Observational evidence of the downstream impact on tropical rainfall from stratospheric Kelvin waves

Zhang, Lei, Karnauskas, KristopherB., Weiss, JeffreyB., Polvani, LorenzoM.
Climate dynamics 2018 v.50 no.9-10 pp. 3775-3782
climate, cold, convection, islands, rain, stratosphere, tropopause
Analysis of one continuous decade of daily, high-vertical resolution sounding data from five proximate islands in the western equatorial Pacific region reveals eastward and downward propagating Kelvin waves in the tropical stratosphere, with a zonal wave number one structure and a period of ~15 days. By defining an initiation index, we find that these waves are primarily generated over the western Pacific warm pool and South America–tropical Atlantic sector, consistent with regions of frequent deep convection. The zonal phase speed of the stratospheric Kelvin waves (SKWs) is relatively slow (~10 m s⁻¹) over the initiation region due to coupling with deep convection, and becomes much faster (~30–40 m s⁻¹) once decoupled from the downstream troposphere. SKWs have significant impacts on downstream tropical rainfall through modulation of tropopause height. The cold phase of SKWs at tropopause leads to higher tropopause heights and more convection in tropics—with opposite impacts associated with the warm phase. Downstream tropical precipitation anomalies associated with these SKWs also propagate eastward with the same speed and zonal scale as observed SKWs. Interannual variability of the amplitude of the SKWs is shown to be associated with the Quasi-Biennial oscillation (QBO); implications for predictability are discussed.