Rapid Cyclogenesis from a Mesoscale Frontal Wave on an Atmospheric River: Impacts on Forecast Skill and Predictability during Atmospheric River Landfall

Andrew C. Martin Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, and Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

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F. Martin Ralph Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, and Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

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Anna Wilson Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, and Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

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Laurel DeHaan Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

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Brian Kawzenuk Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, and Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

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Abstract

Mesoscale frontal waves have the potential to modify the hydrometeorological impacts of atmospheric rivers (ARs). The small scale and rapid growth of these waves pose significant forecast challenges. We examined a frontal wave that developed a secondary cyclone during the landfall of an extreme AR in Northern California. We document rapid changes in significant storm features including integrated vapor transport and precipitation and connect these to high forecast uncertainty at 1–4-days’ lead time. We also analyze the skill of the Global Ensemble Forecast System in predicting secondary cyclogenesis and relate secondary cyclogenesis prediction skill to forecasts of AR intensity, AR duration, and upslope water vapor flux in the orographic controlling layer. Leveraging a measure of reference accuracy designed for cyclogenesis, we found forecasts were only able to skillfully predict secondary cyclogenesis for lead times less than 36 h. Forecast skill in predicting the large-scale pressure pattern and integrated vapor transport was lost by 96-h lead time. For lead times longer than 36 h, the failure to predict secondary cyclogenesis led to significant uncertainty in forecast AR intensity and to long bias in AR forecast duration. Failure to forecast a warm front associated with the secondary cyclone at lead times less than 36 h caused large overprediction of upslope water vapor flux, an important indicator of orographic precipitation forcing. This study highlights the need to identify offshore mesoscale frontal waves in real time and to characterize the forecast uncertainty inherent in these events when creating hydrometeorological forecasts.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Current affiliation: Department of Geography, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.

Corresponding author: Andrew C. Martin, mc@ucsd.edu

Abstract

Mesoscale frontal waves have the potential to modify the hydrometeorological impacts of atmospheric rivers (ARs). The small scale and rapid growth of these waves pose significant forecast challenges. We examined a frontal wave that developed a secondary cyclone during the landfall of an extreme AR in Northern California. We document rapid changes in significant storm features including integrated vapor transport and precipitation and connect these to high forecast uncertainty at 1–4-days’ lead time. We also analyze the skill of the Global Ensemble Forecast System in predicting secondary cyclogenesis and relate secondary cyclogenesis prediction skill to forecasts of AR intensity, AR duration, and upslope water vapor flux in the orographic controlling layer. Leveraging a measure of reference accuracy designed for cyclogenesis, we found forecasts were only able to skillfully predict secondary cyclogenesis for lead times less than 36 h. Forecast skill in predicting the large-scale pressure pattern and integrated vapor transport was lost by 96-h lead time. For lead times longer than 36 h, the failure to predict secondary cyclogenesis led to significant uncertainty in forecast AR intensity and to long bias in AR forecast duration. Failure to forecast a warm front associated with the secondary cyclone at lead times less than 36 h caused large overprediction of upslope water vapor flux, an important indicator of orographic precipitation forcing. This study highlights the need to identify offshore mesoscale frontal waves in real time and to characterize the forecast uncertainty inherent in these events when creating hydrometeorological forecasts.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Current affiliation: Department of Geography, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.

Corresponding author: Andrew C. Martin, mc@ucsd.edu
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