Northern Hemisphere Winter Blocking: Differing Onset Mechanisms across Regions

Douglas E. Miller, Zhuo Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atmospheric blocking is a prolific producer of extreme weather with significant socioeconomic impacts. Different physical mechanisms for blocking onset have been proposed and are generally focused on two sectors: the Eurasian and the North Pacific. Here, we objectively separate blocking into four regions and investigate how the blocking onset mechanisms vary from one region to another, focusing on three factors: scale interactions between three frequency bands, Rossby wave breaking (RWB), and diabatic heating. Atlantic blocks are dominated by the low-frequency flow evolution that resembles the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation and are influenced by cyclonic RWB toward the western edge of the anticyclone. Europe blocks are influenced by high-frequency, traveling waves across the Atlantic Ocean and develop rapidly, mainly attributed to strong anticyclonic RWB and interaction between high- and intermediate-frequency flow components. Asian blocks are fixated within a stationary wave train that spans upstream to the western Atlantic Ocean and do not have strong potential vorticity or RWB features. The Pacific blocks are mainly influenced by an intermediate-frequency retrograding wave train, while a low-frequency component resembling the Pacific–North American pattern is evident. The Pacific blocks also contain precursor signals in the stratosphere. Backward trajectory analysis revealed that 35%–45% of parcels initialized within the Atlantic, Europe, and Pacific blocking anticyclones experience heating and ascent, while adiabatic processes dominate Asian blocking. Overall, our analysis demonstrates the importance of decomposing the flow into three frequency bands and illustrates different blocking onset mechanisms over four sectors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1291-1309
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022


  • Anticyclones
  • Blocking
  • Dynamics
  • Northern Hemisphere
  • Winter/cool season

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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