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Keywords:

  • ENSO;
  • European winter;
  • subtropical jet;
  • two types of El Niño

[1] This study contributes to the discussion on possible effects of El Niño on North Atlantic/European regional climates. We use NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data to show how the two different types of El Niños (the central Pacific, or CP, and the east Pacific, or EP) result in remarkably different European winter temperature anomalies, specifically weak warming during EP and significant cooling during CP El Niños, the latter being associated with a negative phase of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Our results diverge from former suggestions addressing the weakened stratospheric polar vortex as the dominant factor contributing to the El Niño/NAO teleconnection. We propose a tropospheric bridge as the mechanism primarily responsible for the establishment of a negative NAO phase and of associated cold European winters. This mechanism includes the subtropical jet (STJ) waveguide being activated only during CP El Niños, when anomalous convective heating occurs near the edge of the Pacific warm pool. Under these conditions the STJ is enhanced by planetary wave flux divergence in the subtropical upper troposphere, providing favorable conditions for the propagation of a wave number 5 disturbance around the subtropical Northern Hemisphere. This wave contributes to weakening of the Azores High and, hence, to the negative NAO phase. As global warming scenarios project an increase in the frequency of CP El Niño events, the distinctive nature of this mechanism implies that the probability of cold European winters may increase as well in future decades.