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Warm Winter Storms in Central Chile

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  • 1 Department of Geophysics, and Center for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile
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Abstract

Central Chile is a densely populated region along the west coast of subtropical South America (30°–36°S), limited to the east by the Andes. Precipitation is concentrated in austral winter, mostly associated with the passage of cold fronts. The freezing level over central Chile is typically between 1500 and 2500 m when precipitation is present. In about a third of the cases, however, precipitation occurs accompanied by warm temperatures and freezing levels above 3000 m, leading to a sizeable increment in the pluvial area of Andean basins and setting the stage for hydrometeorological hazards. Here, warm winter storms in central Chile are studied, including a statistical description of their occurrence and an estimate of their hydrological impacts. Remote-sensed data and high-resolution reanalysis are used to explore the synoptic-scale environment of a typical case, generalized later by a compositing analysis. The structure of warm storms is also contrasted with that of the more recurrent cold cases. Precipitation during warm events occurs in the warm sector of a slow-moving cold front because of the intense moisture flux against the mountains in connection with a land-falling atmospheric river. This is in turn driven by a strong zonal jet aloft and reduced mechanical blocking upstream of the Andes. On a broader scale, a key element is the presence of a slowly moving anticyclone over the south Pacific, fostering advection of cold air into midlatitudes. The intense and persistent zonal jet stretches a moist-air corridor from the central Pacific to the west coast of South America.

Corresponding author address: Dr. René Garreaud, Department of Geophysics, Universidad de Chile, Blanco Encalada 2002, Santiago, Chile. E-mail: rgarreau@dgf.uchile.cl

Abstract

Central Chile is a densely populated region along the west coast of subtropical South America (30°–36°S), limited to the east by the Andes. Precipitation is concentrated in austral winter, mostly associated with the passage of cold fronts. The freezing level over central Chile is typically between 1500 and 2500 m when precipitation is present. In about a third of the cases, however, precipitation occurs accompanied by warm temperatures and freezing levels above 3000 m, leading to a sizeable increment in the pluvial area of Andean basins and setting the stage for hydrometeorological hazards. Here, warm winter storms in central Chile are studied, including a statistical description of their occurrence and an estimate of their hydrological impacts. Remote-sensed data and high-resolution reanalysis are used to explore the synoptic-scale environment of a typical case, generalized later by a compositing analysis. The structure of warm storms is also contrasted with that of the more recurrent cold cases. Precipitation during warm events occurs in the warm sector of a slow-moving cold front because of the intense moisture flux against the mountains in connection with a land-falling atmospheric river. This is in turn driven by a strong zonal jet aloft and reduced mechanical blocking upstream of the Andes. On a broader scale, a key element is the presence of a slowly moving anticyclone over the south Pacific, fostering advection of cold air into midlatitudes. The intense and persistent zonal jet stretches a moist-air corridor from the central Pacific to the west coast of South America.

Corresponding author address: Dr. René Garreaud, Department of Geophysics, Universidad de Chile, Blanco Encalada 2002, Santiago, Chile. E-mail: rgarreau@dgf.uchile.cl
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