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Synoptic-Scale Flow and Valley Cold Pool Evolution in the Western United States

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  • 1 NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

Valley cold pools (VCPs), which are trapped, cold layers of air at the bottoms of basins or valleys, pose a significant problem for forecasters because they can lead to several forms of difficult-to-forecast and hazardous weather such as fog, freezing rain, or poor air quality. Numerical models have historically failed to routinely provide accurate guidance on the formation and demise of VCPs, making the forecast problem more challenging. In some case studies of persistent wintertime VCPs, there is a connection between the movement of upper-level waves and the timing of VCP formation and decay. Herein, a 3-yr climatology of persistent wintertime VCPs for five valleys and basins in the western United States is performed to see how often VCP formation and decay coincides with synoptic-scale (∼200–2000 km) wave motions. Valley cold pools are found to form most frequently as an upper-level ridge approaches the western United States and in response to strong midlevel warming. The VCPs usually last as long as the ridge is over the area and usually only end when a trough, and its associated midlevel cooling, move over the western United States. In fact, VCP strength appears to be almost entirely dictated by midlevel temperature changes, which suggests large-scale forcing is dominant for this type of VCP most of the time.

Corresponding author address: Heather Dawn Reeves, DOC/NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2401, Norman, OK 73072-7319. Email: heather.reeves@noaa.gov

Abstract

Valley cold pools (VCPs), which are trapped, cold layers of air at the bottoms of basins or valleys, pose a significant problem for forecasters because they can lead to several forms of difficult-to-forecast and hazardous weather such as fog, freezing rain, or poor air quality. Numerical models have historically failed to routinely provide accurate guidance on the formation and demise of VCPs, making the forecast problem more challenging. In some case studies of persistent wintertime VCPs, there is a connection between the movement of upper-level waves and the timing of VCP formation and decay. Herein, a 3-yr climatology of persistent wintertime VCPs for five valleys and basins in the western United States is performed to see how often VCP formation and decay coincides with synoptic-scale (∼200–2000 km) wave motions. Valley cold pools are found to form most frequently as an upper-level ridge approaches the western United States and in response to strong midlevel warming. The VCPs usually last as long as the ridge is over the area and usually only end when a trough, and its associated midlevel cooling, move over the western United States. In fact, VCP strength appears to be almost entirely dictated by midlevel temperature changes, which suggests large-scale forcing is dominant for this type of VCP most of the time.

Corresponding author address: Heather Dawn Reeves, DOC/NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2401, Norman, OK 73072-7319. Email: heather.reeves@noaa.gov

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