Atmospheric seasonal forecasts of the twentieth century: multi-decadal variability in predictive skill of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and their potential value for extreme event attribution


Based on skill estimates from hindcasts made over the last couple of decades, recent studies have suggested that considerable success has been achieved in forecasting winter climate anomalies over the Euro-Atlantic area using current-generation dynamical forecast models. However, previous-generation models had shown that forecasts of winter climate anomalies in the 1960s and 1970s were less successful than forecasts of the 1980s and 1990s. Given that the more recent decades have been dominated by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in its positive phase, it is important to know whether the performance of current models would be similarly skilful when tested over periods of a predominantly negative NAO. To this end, a new ensemble of atmospheric seasonal hindcasts covering the period 1900–2009 has been created, providing a unique tool to explore many aspects of atmospheric seasonal climate prediction. In this study we focus on two of these: multi-decadal variability in predicting the winter NAO, and the potential value of the long seasonal hindcast datasets for the emerging science of probabilistic event attribution. The existence of relatively low skill levels during the period 1950s–1970s has been confirmed in the new dataset. The skill of the NAO forecasts is larger, however, in earlier and later periods. Whilst these inter-decadal differences in skill are, by themselves, only marginally statistically significant, the variations in skill strongly co-vary with statistics of the general circulation itself suggesting that such differences are indeed physically based. The mid-century period of low forecast skill coincides with a negative NAO phase but the relationship between the NAO phase/amplitude and forecast skill is more complex than linear. Finally, we show how seasonal forecast reliability can be of importance for increasing confidence in statements of causes of extreme weather and climate events, including effects of anthropogenic climate change.

Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society