The coupling between the stratosphere and the troposphere has been investigated by analysing low-frequency variations in: (1) the meridional mass flux into the polar cap (north of 60°N), computed separately for the stratosphere and the troposphere; (2) the polar cap mean surface pressure, and (3) the surface level meridional pressure gradient and zonal wind around 60°N. The analysis has been done for the 1979–93 Northern Hemisphere (NH) winters, using ECMWF reanalysis data. The results show that for all winters the meridional mass flux variations in the stratosphere precede those in the troposphere, by about one day. This result can also be obtained qualitatively with a very simple model, based on the zonally averaged zonal and meridional momentum equations. The lag is not very sensitive to the latitude of the southern boundary of the polar cap. The analysed variations in the polar cap mean surface pressure associated with variations in the meridional mass flux, determine most of the variability in the analysed meridional surface pressure gradient and the associated surface zonal wind around 60°N. The results also show that in the stratosphere the Coriolis force associated with the zonal-mean meridional wind is in near-balance with the convergence of the eddy momentum flux, and in the lower troposphere with the zonal frictional force. In summary, the results indicate that in the extratropical northern winter hemisphere, low-frequency variations in the meridional wind in the stratosphere induce low-frequency variations in the zonal wind near the surface.