Contribution of Cutoff Lows to Precipitation across the United States

John T. Abatzoglou Department of Geography, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

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Abstract

A chronology of cutoff lows (COL) from 1979 to 2014 alongside daily precipitation observations across the conterminous United States was used to examine the contribution of COL to seasonal precipitation, extreme-precipitation events, and interannual precipitation variability. COL accounted for between 2% and 32% of annual precipitation at stations across the United States, with distinct geographic and seasonal variability. The largest fractional contribution of COL to precipitation totals and precipitation extremes was found across the Great Plains and the interior western United States, particularly during the transition seasons of spring and autumn. Widespread significant correlations between seasonal COL precipitation and total precipitation on interannual time scales were found across parts of the United States, most notably to explain spring precipitation variability in the interior western United States and Great Plains and summer precipitation variability in the northwestern United States. In addition to regional differences, a distinct gradient in the contributions of COL to precipitation was found in the lee of large mountain ranges in the western United States. Differences in orographic precipitation enhancement associated with slow-moving COL resulted in relatively more precipitation at lower elevations and, in particular, east of north–south-oriented mountain ranges that experience a strong rain shadow with progressive disturbances.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-15-0255.s1.

Corresponding author address: John T. Abatzoglou, University of Idaho, Dept. of Geography, 875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3021, Moscow, ID 83843-3021. E-mail: jabatzoglou@uidaho.edu

Abstract

A chronology of cutoff lows (COL) from 1979 to 2014 alongside daily precipitation observations across the conterminous United States was used to examine the contribution of COL to seasonal precipitation, extreme-precipitation events, and interannual precipitation variability. COL accounted for between 2% and 32% of annual precipitation at stations across the United States, with distinct geographic and seasonal variability. The largest fractional contribution of COL to precipitation totals and precipitation extremes was found across the Great Plains and the interior western United States, particularly during the transition seasons of spring and autumn. Widespread significant correlations between seasonal COL precipitation and total precipitation on interannual time scales were found across parts of the United States, most notably to explain spring precipitation variability in the interior western United States and Great Plains and summer precipitation variability in the northwestern United States. In addition to regional differences, a distinct gradient in the contributions of COL to precipitation was found in the lee of large mountain ranges in the western United States. Differences in orographic precipitation enhancement associated with slow-moving COL resulted in relatively more precipitation at lower elevations and, in particular, east of north–south-oriented mountain ranges that experience a strong rain shadow with progressive disturbances.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-15-0255.s1.

Corresponding author address: John T. Abatzoglou, University of Idaho, Dept. of Geography, 875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3021, Moscow, ID 83843-3021. E-mail: jabatzoglou@uidaho.edu

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