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The Variability of Wintertime Precipitation in the Region of California

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  • 1 Universities Space Research Association, Inc., NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Rotated principal component (RPC) analysis, subject to the varimax criterion and including area weighting, is applied to a 58-yr record (1931–88) of monthly- and seasonal-mean Climatic Division precipitation anomalies for the contiguous United States to document wintertime precipitation variability in the region of California. Rotated principal components (time series) derived from this analysis are related to anomalies of seasonal-mean global sea surface temperature, and monthly mean Northern Hemisphere 500-hPa geopotential height and sea level pressure (SLP).

Wintertime seasonal-mean precipitation in California is captured by two RPCs. The first RPC documents coherent precipitation anomalies centered in northern California, Oregon, southern Idaho, and eastern Washington, and explains the largest portion of area-averaged variance of any of the patterns in the decomposition. A second RPC captures coherent precipitation variability in the south coast and southeast desert regions of California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, and northern Arizona. Fluctuations in the first RPC correlate poorly with Pacific Ocean SST anomalies. However, wet winters in the region of the second RPC correlate modestly with simultaneous cool western subtropical Pacific Ocean SST anomalies and weakly with warm SST anomalies over a broad region of the central and eastern tropical Pacific. The spatial scale of the tropical SST correlations and the prominent multidecadal timescale signal of the RPC are consistent with ENSO fluctuations on this timescale influencing southern California precipitation.

Consistent with the results of earlier studies, significant correlations are found between California wintertime monthly mean precipitation variability and regional 500-hPa geopotential height and SLP anomalies. Linear regression analysis is used to construct estimates of the total 500-hPa geopotential height and SLP fields (climatology plus anomaly) that are representative of the extreme wet and dry California winter months; these are then compared with the observed conditions in the individual extreme months. Several different flow patterns appear capable of producing anomalously large monthly precipitation totals in California.

*thinsp;Current affiliation: Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Todd P. Mitchell, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Box 354235, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.

Abstract

Rotated principal component (RPC) analysis, subject to the varimax criterion and including area weighting, is applied to a 58-yr record (1931–88) of monthly- and seasonal-mean Climatic Division precipitation anomalies for the contiguous United States to document wintertime precipitation variability in the region of California. Rotated principal components (time series) derived from this analysis are related to anomalies of seasonal-mean global sea surface temperature, and monthly mean Northern Hemisphere 500-hPa geopotential height and sea level pressure (SLP).

Wintertime seasonal-mean precipitation in California is captured by two RPCs. The first RPC documents coherent precipitation anomalies centered in northern California, Oregon, southern Idaho, and eastern Washington, and explains the largest portion of area-averaged variance of any of the patterns in the decomposition. A second RPC captures coherent precipitation variability in the south coast and southeast desert regions of California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, and northern Arizona. Fluctuations in the first RPC correlate poorly with Pacific Ocean SST anomalies. However, wet winters in the region of the second RPC correlate modestly with simultaneous cool western subtropical Pacific Ocean SST anomalies and weakly with warm SST anomalies over a broad region of the central and eastern tropical Pacific. The spatial scale of the tropical SST correlations and the prominent multidecadal timescale signal of the RPC are consistent with ENSO fluctuations on this timescale influencing southern California precipitation.

Consistent with the results of earlier studies, significant correlations are found between California wintertime monthly mean precipitation variability and regional 500-hPa geopotential height and SLP anomalies. Linear regression analysis is used to construct estimates of the total 500-hPa geopotential height and SLP fields (climatology plus anomaly) that are representative of the extreme wet and dry California winter months; these are then compared with the observed conditions in the individual extreme months. Several different flow patterns appear capable of producing anomalously large monthly precipitation totals in California.

*thinsp;Current affiliation: Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Todd P. Mitchell, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Box 354235, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.

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