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Contribution of the Autumn Tibetan Plateau Snow Cover to Seasonal Prediction of North American Winter Temperature

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  • 1 Meteorological Research Division, Environment Canada, Dorval, Quebec, Canada
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Abstract

Predicting surface air temperature (T) is a major task of North American (NA) winter seasonal prediction. It has been recognized that variations of the NA winter T’s can be associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This study presents observed evidence that variability in snow cover over the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its adjacent areas in prior autumn (September–November) is significantly correlated with the first principal component (PC1) of the NA winter T’s, which features a meridional seesaw pattern over the NA continent. The autumn TP snow cover anomaly can persist into the following winter through a positive feedback between snow cover and the atmosphere. A positive TP snow cover anomaly may induce a negative sea level pressure and geopotential height anomaly over the eastern North Pacific, a positive geopotential height anomaly over Canada, and a negative anomaly over the southeastern United States—a structure very similar to the positive phase of the Pacific–North America (PNA) pattern. This pattern usually favors the occurrence of a warm–north, cold–south winter over the NA continent. When a negative snow cover anomaly occurs, the situation tends to be opposite. Since the autumn TP snow cover shows a weak correlation with ENSO, it provides a new predictability source for NA winter T’s.

Based on the above results, an empirical model is constructed to predict PC1 using a combination of autumn TP snow cover and other sea surface temperature anomalies related to ENSO and the NAO. Hindcasts and real forecasts are performed for the 1972–2003 and 2004–09 periods, respectively. Both show a promising prediction skill. As far as PC1 is concerned, the empirical model hindcast performs better than the ensemble mean of four dynamical models from the Canadian Meteorological Centre. Particularly, the real forecast of the empirical model exhibits a better performance in predicting the extreme phases of PC1—that is, the extremely warm winter over Canada in 2009/10—should the model include the autumn TP snow cover impacts. Since all these predictors can be readily monitored in real time, this empirical model provides a real-time forecast tool for NA winter climate.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Hai Lin, MRD, ASTD, Environment Canada, 2121 Trans-Canada Highway, Dorval QC H9P 1J3, Canada. E-mail: hai.lin@ec.gc.ca

Abstract

Predicting surface air temperature (T) is a major task of North American (NA) winter seasonal prediction. It has been recognized that variations of the NA winter T’s can be associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This study presents observed evidence that variability in snow cover over the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and its adjacent areas in prior autumn (September–November) is significantly correlated with the first principal component (PC1) of the NA winter T’s, which features a meridional seesaw pattern over the NA continent. The autumn TP snow cover anomaly can persist into the following winter through a positive feedback between snow cover and the atmosphere. A positive TP snow cover anomaly may induce a negative sea level pressure and geopotential height anomaly over the eastern North Pacific, a positive geopotential height anomaly over Canada, and a negative anomaly over the southeastern United States—a structure very similar to the positive phase of the Pacific–North America (PNA) pattern. This pattern usually favors the occurrence of a warm–north, cold–south winter over the NA continent. When a negative snow cover anomaly occurs, the situation tends to be opposite. Since the autumn TP snow cover shows a weak correlation with ENSO, it provides a new predictability source for NA winter T’s.

Based on the above results, an empirical model is constructed to predict PC1 using a combination of autumn TP snow cover and other sea surface temperature anomalies related to ENSO and the NAO. Hindcasts and real forecasts are performed for the 1972–2003 and 2004–09 periods, respectively. Both show a promising prediction skill. As far as PC1 is concerned, the empirical model hindcast performs better than the ensemble mean of four dynamical models from the Canadian Meteorological Centre. Particularly, the real forecast of the empirical model exhibits a better performance in predicting the extreme phases of PC1—that is, the extremely warm winter over Canada in 2009/10—should the model include the autumn TP snow cover impacts. Since all these predictors can be readily monitored in real time, this empirical model provides a real-time forecast tool for NA winter climate.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Hai Lin, MRD, ASTD, Environment Canada, 2121 Trans-Canada Highway, Dorval QC H9P 1J3, Canada. E-mail: hai.lin@ec.gc.ca
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