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Climatic Influence of Sea Surface Temperature: Evidence of Substantial Precipitation Correlation and Predictability

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
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Abstract

Using a combination of statistical methods and monthly SST anomalies (SSTAs) from one or two ocean regions, relatively strong SSTA–precipitation relationships are found during much of the year in the United States: hindcast-bias-corrected correlation coefficients 0.2–0.4 and 0.3–0.6, on monthly and seasonal timescales, respectively. Improved rigor is central to these results: the most crucial procedure was a transform giving regression residuals meeting statistical validity requirements. Tests on 1994–99 out-of-sample data gave better results than expected: semiquantitative, mapped predictions, and quantitative, Heidke skills, are shown. Correlations are large enough to suggest that substantial skill can be obtained for one to several months' precipitation and climate forecasts using ocean circulation models, or statistical methods alone. Although this study was limited to the United States for simplicity, the methodology is intended as generally applicable. Previous work suggests that similar or better skills should be obtainable over much of earth's continental area. Ways likely to improve skills are noted.

Pacific SSTAs outside the Tropics showed substantial precipitation influence, but the main area of North Pacific variability, that along the subarctic front, did not. Instead, the east–west position of SSTAs appears important. The main variability is likely due to north–south changes in front position and will likely give PC analysis artifacts. SSTAs from some regions, the Gulf of Mexico in particular, gave very strong correlations over large U.S. areas. Tests indicated that they are likely caused by atmospheric forcing. Because unusually strong, they should be useful for testing coupled ocean–atmosphere GCMs. Investigation of differences between ENSO events noted by others showed that they are likely attributable to differing SSTA patterns.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Gregory R. Markowski, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, MS 3150, College Station, TX 77843. Email: gregm@flow.tamu.edu

Abstract

Using a combination of statistical methods and monthly SST anomalies (SSTAs) from one or two ocean regions, relatively strong SSTA–precipitation relationships are found during much of the year in the United States: hindcast-bias-corrected correlation coefficients 0.2–0.4 and 0.3–0.6, on monthly and seasonal timescales, respectively. Improved rigor is central to these results: the most crucial procedure was a transform giving regression residuals meeting statistical validity requirements. Tests on 1994–99 out-of-sample data gave better results than expected: semiquantitative, mapped predictions, and quantitative, Heidke skills, are shown. Correlations are large enough to suggest that substantial skill can be obtained for one to several months' precipitation and climate forecasts using ocean circulation models, or statistical methods alone. Although this study was limited to the United States for simplicity, the methodology is intended as generally applicable. Previous work suggests that similar or better skills should be obtainable over much of earth's continental area. Ways likely to improve skills are noted.

Pacific SSTAs outside the Tropics showed substantial precipitation influence, but the main area of North Pacific variability, that along the subarctic front, did not. Instead, the east–west position of SSTAs appears important. The main variability is likely due to north–south changes in front position and will likely give PC analysis artifacts. SSTAs from some regions, the Gulf of Mexico in particular, gave very strong correlations over large U.S. areas. Tests indicated that they are likely caused by atmospheric forcing. Because unusually strong, they should be useful for testing coupled ocean–atmosphere GCMs. Investigation of differences between ENSO events noted by others showed that they are likely attributable to differing SSTA patterns.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Gregory R. Markowski, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, MS 3150, College Station, TX 77843. Email: gregm@flow.tamu.edu

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