Sudden Stratospheric Warmings

Mark P. Baldwin, Blanca Ayarzagüena, Thomas Birner, Neal Butchart, Amy H. Butler, Andrew J. Charlton-Perez, Daniela I.V. Domeisen, Chaim I. Garfinkel, Hella Garny, Edwin P. Gerber, Michaela I. Hegglin, Ulrike Langematz, Nicholas M. Pedatella

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are impressive fluid dynamical events in which large and rapid temperature increases in the winter polar stratosphere (∼10–50 km) are associated with a complete reversal of the climatological wintertime westerly winds. SSWs are caused by the breaking of planetary-scale waves that propagate upwards from the troposphere. During an SSW, the polar vortex breaks down, accompanied by rapid descent and warming of air in polar latitudes, mirrored by ascent and cooling above the warming. The rapid warming and descent of the polar air column affect tropospheric weather, shifting jet streams, storm tracks, and the Northern Annular Mode, making cold air outbreaks over North America and Eurasia more likely. SSWs affect the atmosphere above the stratosphere, producing widespread effects on atmospheric chemistry, temperatures, winds, neutral (nonionized) particles and electron densities, and electric fields. These effects span both hemispheres. Given their crucial role in the whole atmosphere, SSWs are also seen as a key process to analyze in climate change studies and subseasonal to seasonal prediction. This work reviews the current knowledge on the most important aspects of SSWs, from the historical background to dynamical processes, modeling, chemistry, and impact on other atmospheric layers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020RG000708
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • QBO
  • middle atmosphere
  • stratosphere
  • upper atmosphere
  • weather forecasts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


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