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The West Coast Thermal Trough: Mesoscale Evolution and Sensitivity to Terrain and Surface Fluxes

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  • 1 University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 USDA Forest Service, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Despite the significant impacts of the West Coast thermal trough (WCTT) on West Coast weather and climate, questions remain regarding its mesoscale structure, origin, and dynamics. Of particular interest is the relative importance of terrain forcing, advection, and surface heating on WCTT formation and evolution. To explore such questions, the 13–16 May 2007 WCTT event was examined using observations and simulations from the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. An analysis of the thermodynamic energy equation for these simulations was completed, as well as sensitivity experiments in which terrain or surface fluxes were removed or modified. For the May 2007 event, vertical advection of potential temperature is the primary driver of local warming and WCTT formation west of the Cascades. The downslope flow that drives this warming is forced by easterly flow associated with high pressure over British Columbia, Canada. When the terrain is removed from the model, the WCTT does not form and high pressure builds over the northwest United States. When the WCTT forms on the east side of the Cascades, diabatic heating dominates over the other terms in the thermodynamic energy equation, with warm advection playing a small role. If surface heat fluxes are neglected, an area of low pressure remains east of the Cascades, though it is substantially attenuated.

Corresponding author address: Matthew C. Brewer, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-164045. E-mail: mcbrewer83@yahoo.com

Abstract

Despite the significant impacts of the West Coast thermal trough (WCTT) on West Coast weather and climate, questions remain regarding its mesoscale structure, origin, and dynamics. Of particular interest is the relative importance of terrain forcing, advection, and surface heating on WCTT formation and evolution. To explore such questions, the 13–16 May 2007 WCTT event was examined using observations and simulations from the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. An analysis of the thermodynamic energy equation for these simulations was completed, as well as sensitivity experiments in which terrain or surface fluxes were removed or modified. For the May 2007 event, vertical advection of potential temperature is the primary driver of local warming and WCTT formation west of the Cascades. The downslope flow that drives this warming is forced by easterly flow associated with high pressure over British Columbia, Canada. When the terrain is removed from the model, the WCTT does not form and high pressure builds over the northwest United States. When the WCTT forms on the east side of the Cascades, diabatic heating dominates over the other terms in the thermodynamic energy equation, with warm advection playing a small role. If surface heat fluxes are neglected, an area of low pressure remains east of the Cascades, though it is substantially attenuated.

Corresponding author address: Matthew C. Brewer, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-164045. E-mail: mcbrewer83@yahoo.com
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