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Variations in the Summertime Atmospheric Hydrologic Cycle Associated with Seasonal Precipitation Anomalies over the Southwestern United States

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  • 1 Department of Geography and Environment, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

This paper examines year-to-year variations in the large-scale summertime hydrologic cycle over the southwestern United States using a suite of regional model simulations and surface- and upper-air-based observations. In agreement with previous results, it is found that observed interannual precipitation variations in this region can be subdivided into two spatiotemporal regimes—one associated with rainfall variability over the southwestern portion of the domain centered on Arizona and the other associated with variations over the southeastern portion centered on western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Because of the limited duration of the model simulation data, it is possible to only investigate one positive rainfall season over the Arizona region and one negative rainfall season over the New Mexico region. From these investigations it appears that for the positive rainfall anomalies over Arizona excess seasonal precipitation is balanced by both enhanced evaporation and vertically integrated large-scale moisture flux convergence. Vertical profiles of these terms indicate that the anomalous large-scale moisture flux convergence is actually related to a decrease in the mean large-scale moisture flux divergence aloft; below 800 mb there is a decrease in the mean moisture flux convergence typically found at these levels, which in turn produces anomalous moisture divergence from the region. For the negative rainfall anomalies over New Mexico similar results, but of opposite sign, are found; one exception is that at the lowest levels there is an additional (negative) contribution to the vertically integrated moisture flux convergence anomaly related to a weakening of the mean low-level moisture flux convergence during the low-rainfall year. Further studies using two different model simulations with the same large-scale dynamic forcing but differing initial soil moisture values indicate that similar balances are also found for rainfall anomalies related to surface soil moisture changes within the domain, suggesting that the changes in large-scale moisture flux convergence described above can be attributed to both year-to-year variations in the regional land–atmosphere interactions as well as variations in the large-scale circulation patterns.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bruce T. Anderson, Department of Geography, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-1401. Email: brucea@bu.edu

Abstract

This paper examines year-to-year variations in the large-scale summertime hydrologic cycle over the southwestern United States using a suite of regional model simulations and surface- and upper-air-based observations. In agreement with previous results, it is found that observed interannual precipitation variations in this region can be subdivided into two spatiotemporal regimes—one associated with rainfall variability over the southwestern portion of the domain centered on Arizona and the other associated with variations over the southeastern portion centered on western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Because of the limited duration of the model simulation data, it is possible to only investigate one positive rainfall season over the Arizona region and one negative rainfall season over the New Mexico region. From these investigations it appears that for the positive rainfall anomalies over Arizona excess seasonal precipitation is balanced by both enhanced evaporation and vertically integrated large-scale moisture flux convergence. Vertical profiles of these terms indicate that the anomalous large-scale moisture flux convergence is actually related to a decrease in the mean large-scale moisture flux divergence aloft; below 800 mb there is a decrease in the mean moisture flux convergence typically found at these levels, which in turn produces anomalous moisture divergence from the region. For the negative rainfall anomalies over New Mexico similar results, but of opposite sign, are found; one exception is that at the lowest levels there is an additional (negative) contribution to the vertically integrated moisture flux convergence anomaly related to a weakening of the mean low-level moisture flux convergence during the low-rainfall year. Further studies using two different model simulations with the same large-scale dynamic forcing but differing initial soil moisture values indicate that similar balances are also found for rainfall anomalies related to surface soil moisture changes within the domain, suggesting that the changes in large-scale moisture flux convergence described above can be attributed to both year-to-year variations in the regional land–atmosphere interactions as well as variations in the large-scale circulation patterns.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bruce T. Anderson, Department of Geography, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-1401. Email: brucea@bu.edu

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