The Contribution of Eastern North Pacific Tropical Cyclones to the Rainfall Climatology of the Southwest United States

Kristen L. Corbosiero Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

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Michael J. Dickinson Weather Predict Consulting, Inc., Narragansett, Rhode Island

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Lance F. Bosart Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York

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Abstract

Forty-six years of summer rainfall and tropical cyclone data are used to explore the role that eastern North Pacific tropical cyclones (TCs) play in the rainfall climatology of the summer monsoon over the southwestern United States. Thirty-five TCs and their remnants were found to bring significant rainfall to the region, representing less than 10% of the total number of TCs that formed within the basin. The month of September was the most common time for TC rainfall to occur in the monsoon region as midlatitude troughs become more likely to penetrate far enough south to interact with the TCs and steer them toward the north and east. On average, the contribution of TCs to the warm-season precipitation increased from east to west, accounting for less than 5% of the rainfall in New Mexico and increasing to more than 20% in southern California and northern Baja California, with individual storms accounting for as much as 95% of the summer rainfall. The distribution of rainfall for TC events over the southwest United States reveals three main categories: 1) a direct northward track from the eastern Pacific into southern California and Nevada, 2) a distinct swath northeastward from southwestern Arizona through northwestern New Mexico and into southwestern Colorado, and 3) a broad area of precipitation over the southwest United States with embedded maxima tied to terrain features. Differences in these track types relate to the phasing between, and scales of, the trough and TC, with the California track being more likely with large cutoff cyclones situated off the west coast, the southwest–northeast track being most likely with mobile midlatitude troughs moving across the intermountain west, and the broad precipitation category generally exhibiting no direct interaction with midlatitude features.

Corresponding author address: Kristen L. Corbosiero, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095. Email: kristen@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

Forty-six years of summer rainfall and tropical cyclone data are used to explore the role that eastern North Pacific tropical cyclones (TCs) play in the rainfall climatology of the summer monsoon over the southwestern United States. Thirty-five TCs and their remnants were found to bring significant rainfall to the region, representing less than 10% of the total number of TCs that formed within the basin. The month of September was the most common time for TC rainfall to occur in the monsoon region as midlatitude troughs become more likely to penetrate far enough south to interact with the TCs and steer them toward the north and east. On average, the contribution of TCs to the warm-season precipitation increased from east to west, accounting for less than 5% of the rainfall in New Mexico and increasing to more than 20% in southern California and northern Baja California, with individual storms accounting for as much as 95% of the summer rainfall. The distribution of rainfall for TC events over the southwest United States reveals three main categories: 1) a direct northward track from the eastern Pacific into southern California and Nevada, 2) a distinct swath northeastward from southwestern Arizona through northwestern New Mexico and into southwestern Colorado, and 3) a broad area of precipitation over the southwest United States with embedded maxima tied to terrain features. Differences in these track types relate to the phasing between, and scales of, the trough and TC, with the California track being more likely with large cutoff cyclones situated off the west coast, the southwest–northeast track being most likely with mobile midlatitude troughs moving across the intermountain west, and the broad precipitation category generally exhibiting no direct interaction with midlatitude features.

Corresponding author address: Kristen L. Corbosiero, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095. Email: kristen@atmos.ucla.edu

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