Articles | Volume 27, issue 1
06 Jan 2009
 | 06 Jan 2009

The influence of solar wind on extratropical cyclones – Part 2: A link mediated by auroral atmospheric gravity waves?

P. Prikryl, D. B. Muldrew, and G. J. Sofko

Abstract. Cases of mesoscale cloud bands in extratropical cyclones are observed a few hours after atmospheric gravity waves (AGWs) are launched from the auroral ionosphere. It is suggested that the solar-wind-generated auroral AGWs contribute to processes that release instabilities and initiate slantwise convection thus leading to cloud bands and growth of extratropical cyclones. Also, if the AGWs are ducted to low latitudes, they could influence the development of tropical cyclones. The gravity-wave-induced vertical lift may modulate the slantwise convection by releasing the moist symmetric instability at near-threshold conditions in the warm frontal zone of extratropical cyclones. Latent heat release associated with the mesoscale slantwise convection has been linked to explosive cyclogenesis and severe weather. The circumstantial and statistical evidence of the solar wind influence on extratropical cyclones is further supported by a statistical analysis of high-level clouds (<440 mb) extracted from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) D1 dataset. A statistically significant response of the high-level cloud area index (HCAI) to fast solar wind from coronal holes is found in mid-to-high latitudes during autumn-winter and in low latitudes during spring-summer. In the extratropics, this response of the HCAI to solar wind forcing is consistent with the effect on tropospheric vorticity found by Wilcox et al. (1974) and verified by Prikryl et al. (2009). In the tropics, the observed HCAI response, namely a decrease in HCAI at the arrival of solar wind stream followed by an increase a few days later, is similar to that in the northern and southern mid-to-high latitudes. The amplitude of the response nearly doubles for stream interfaces associated with the interplanetary magnetic field BZ component shifting southward. When the IMF BZ after the stream interface shifts northward, the autumn-winter effect weakens or shifts to lower (mid) latitudes and no statistically significant response is found at low latitudes in spring-summer. The observed effect persists through years of low and high volcanic aerosol loading. The similarity of the response in mid-to-high and low latitudes, the lack of dependence upon aerosol loading, and the enhanced amplitude of the effect when IMF BZ component shifts southward, favor the proposed AGW link over the atmospheric electric circuit (AEC) mechanism (Tinsley et al., 1994). The latter requires the presence of stratospheric aerosols for a significant effect and should produce negative and positive cloud anomalies in mid-to-high and low latitudes, respectively. However, if the requirement of aerosols for the AEC mechanism can be relaxed, the AGW and AEC mechanisms should work in synergy at least in mid-to-high latitudes.