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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Decadal variability of the NAO: Introducing an augmented NAO index


The wintertime NAO is traditionally defined as the first Empirical Orthogonal Function of monthly sea level pressure (SLP) anomalies for all winters and therefore remains fixed in space. The associated NAO index represents the projection of SLP onto the fixed NAO pattern. The NAO index is positive when the pressure contrast between the two centers of action is particularly strong; it is negative when the contrast is weak. This index represents an incomplete description of the wintertime NAO as the pattern is found to shift location on decadal timescales. This study investigates the movement of the centers of action (or nodes) of the NAO for winter in 20-yr running windows starting in 1871. A new climate index, the Angle index, is introduced. It is a measure of the asymmetry in location of the two nodes of the NAO defined in the partially overlapping 20-yr windows. The Angle index has a value of zero only when both nodes are located on the same meridian. It increases in positive value as the curve connecting the nodes tilts more to the northeast; it becomes negative when the tilt is to the northwest. The Angle index complements the smooth NAO index, which is the traditional NAO index averaged over the 20-yr window, especially when the Angle index is strongly negative as occurred during the Arctic warming of the early to mid 20th century. Regression analysis shows that the Angle index provides additional information about climate variability beyond that provided by the smooth NAO index.

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