Recent numerical experiments have demonstrated that the state of the stratosphere has a dynamical impact on the state of the troposphere. To account for such an effect, a number of mechanisms have been proposed in the literature, all of which amount to a large-scale adjustment of the troposphere to potential vorticity (PV) anomalies in the stratosphere. This paper analyses whether a simple PV adjustment suffices to explain the actual dynamical response of the troposphere to the state of the stratosphere, the actual response being determined by ensembles of numerical experiments run with an atmospheric general-circulation model. For this purpose, a new PV inverter is developed. It is shown that the simple PV adjustment hypothesis is inadequate. PV anomalies in the stratosphere induce, by inversion, flow anomalies in the troposphere that do not coincide spatially with the tropospheric changes determined by the numerical experiments. Moreover, the tropospheric anomalies induced by PV inversion are on a larger scale than the changes found in the numerical experiments, which are linked to the Atlantic and Pacific storm-tracks. These findings imply that the impact of the stratospheric state on the troposphere is manifested through the impact on individual synoptic-scale systems and their self-organization in the storm-tracks. Changes in these weather systems in the troposphere are not merely synoptic-scale ‘noise’ on a larger scale tropospheric response, but an integral part of the mechanism by which the state of the stratosphere impacts that of the troposphere. Copyright © 2005 Royal Meteorological Society.