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Linking Atmospheric River Hydrological Impacts on the U.S. West Coast to Rossby Wave Breaking

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
  • | 2 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
  • | 4 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) have significant hydrometeorological impacts on the U.S. West Coast. This study presents the connection between the characteristics of large-scale Rossby wave breaking (RWB) over the eastern North Pacific and the regional-scale hydrological impacts associated with landfalling ARs on the U.S. West Coast (36°–49°N). ARs associated with RWB account for two-thirds of the landfalling AR events and >70% of total AR-precipitation in the winter season. The two regimes of RWB—anticyclonic wave breaking (AWB) and cyclonic wave breaking (CWB)—are associated with different directions of the vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT). AWB-ARs impinge in a more westerly direction on the coast whereas CWB-ARs impinge in a more southwesterly direction.

Most of the landfalling ARs along the northwestern coast of the United States (states of Washington and Oregon) are AWB-ARs. Because of their westerly impinging angles when compared to CWB-ARs, AWB-ARs arrive more orthogonally to the western Cascades and more efficiently transform water vapor into precipitation through orographic lift than CWB-ARs. Consequently, AWB-ARs are associated with the most extreme streamflows in the region.

Along the southwest coast of the United States (California), the southwesterly impinging angles of CWB-ARs are more orthogonal to the local topography. Furthermore, the southwest coast CWB-ARs have more intense IVT. Consequently, CWB-ARs are associated with the most intense precipitation. As a result, most of the extreme streamflows in southwest coastal basins are associated with CWB-ARs. In summary, depending on the associated RWB type, ARs impinge on the local topography at a different angle and have a different spatial signature of precipitation and streamflow.

Current affiliation: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, United Kingdom.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Francina Dominguez, francina@illinois.edu

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) have significant hydrometeorological impacts on the U.S. West Coast. This study presents the connection between the characteristics of large-scale Rossby wave breaking (RWB) over the eastern North Pacific and the regional-scale hydrological impacts associated with landfalling ARs on the U.S. West Coast (36°–49°N). ARs associated with RWB account for two-thirds of the landfalling AR events and >70% of total AR-precipitation in the winter season. The two regimes of RWB—anticyclonic wave breaking (AWB) and cyclonic wave breaking (CWB)—are associated with different directions of the vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT). AWB-ARs impinge in a more westerly direction on the coast whereas CWB-ARs impinge in a more southwesterly direction.

Most of the landfalling ARs along the northwestern coast of the United States (states of Washington and Oregon) are AWB-ARs. Because of their westerly impinging angles when compared to CWB-ARs, AWB-ARs arrive more orthogonally to the western Cascades and more efficiently transform water vapor into precipitation through orographic lift than CWB-ARs. Consequently, AWB-ARs are associated with the most extreme streamflows in the region.

Along the southwest coast of the United States (California), the southwesterly impinging angles of CWB-ARs are more orthogonal to the local topography. Furthermore, the southwest coast CWB-ARs have more intense IVT. Consequently, CWB-ARs are associated with the most intense precipitation. As a result, most of the extreme streamflows in southwest coastal basins are associated with CWB-ARs. In summary, depending on the associated RWB type, ARs impinge on the local topography at a different angle and have a different spatial signature of precipitation and streamflow.

Current affiliation: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, United Kingdom.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author e-mail: Francina Dominguez, francina@illinois.edu
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