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Sensitivity of Ice Storms in the Southeastern United States to Atlantic SST—Insights from a Case Study of the December 2002 Storm

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
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Abstract

Meteorological observations and model simulations are used to show that the catastrophic ice storm of 4–5 December 2002 in the southeastern United States resulted from the combination of a classic winter storm and a warm sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly in the western Atlantic Ocean. At the time of the storm, observations show that the Atlantic SST near the southeastern U.S. coast was 1.0°–1.5°C warmer than its multiyear mean. The impact of this anomalous SST on the ice accumulation of the ice storm was evaluated with the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System. The model shows that a warmer ocean leads to the conversion of more snow into freezing rain while not significantly affecting the inland surface temperature. Conversely, a cooler ocean produces mostly snowfall and less freezing rain. A similar trend is obtained by statistically comparing observations of ice storms in the last decade with weekly mean Atlantic SSTs. The SST during an ice storm is significantly and positively correlated with a deeper and warmer melting layer.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Roni Avissar, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 123 Hudson Hall, Duke University, P.O. Box 90287, Durham, NC 27708-0287. Email: avissar@duke.edu

Abstract

Meteorological observations and model simulations are used to show that the catastrophic ice storm of 4–5 December 2002 in the southeastern United States resulted from the combination of a classic winter storm and a warm sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly in the western Atlantic Ocean. At the time of the storm, observations show that the Atlantic SST near the southeastern U.S. coast was 1.0°–1.5°C warmer than its multiyear mean. The impact of this anomalous SST on the ice accumulation of the ice storm was evaluated with the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System. The model shows that a warmer ocean leads to the conversion of more snow into freezing rain while not significantly affecting the inland surface temperature. Conversely, a cooler ocean produces mostly snowfall and less freezing rain. A similar trend is obtained by statistically comparing observations of ice storms in the last decade with weekly mean Atlantic SSTs. The SST during an ice storm is significantly and positively correlated with a deeper and warmer melting layer.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Roni Avissar, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 123 Hudson Hall, Duke University, P.O. Box 90287, Durham, NC 27708-0287. Email: avissar@duke.edu

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