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A Trajectory Approach to Analyzing the Ingredients Associated with Heavy Winter Storms in Central North Carolina

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  • 1 Southeast Regional Climate Center, Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Abstract

Winter storms, namely snowstorms and ice storms, are a major hazard and forecasting challenge across central North Carolina. This study employed a trajectory approach to analyze the ingredients (i.e., temperature, moisture, and lift) associated with heavy snowstorms and ice storms that occurred within the Raleigh, North Carolina, National Weather Service forecast region from 2000 to 2010. The Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) tool was used to calculate 72-h backward (i.e., upstream) air parcel trajectories from three critical vertical pressure levels at the time and location of heaviest precipitation for each storm. Analysis of composite trajectories revealed the source regions and meteorological properties of air parcels associated with heavy winter storms. Adiabatic and diabatic contributions to air parcel temperature and moisture content were also estimated along each trajectory to assess the physical processes connected with heavy winter precipitation in the region. Results indicate that diabatic warming and cooling contribute significantly to the vertical temperature profile during heavy winter storms and therefore dictate the resulting precipitation type. The main source of diabatic warming is fluxes of sensible and latent heat within the marine atmospheric boundary layer over the Gulf Stream. These fluxes contribute to a warming and moistening of air parcels associated with heavy ice storms. In contrast, heavy snowstorms are characterized by diabatic cooling in the lower troposphere above the marine atmospheric boundary layer. The most significant moisture source for heavy snowfall is the Caribbean Sea, while heavy ice storms entrain moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Stream region near the Carolina coast.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christopher M. Fuhrmann, Southeast Regional Climate Center, Dept. of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3220. E-mail: fuhrmann@unc.edu

Abstract

Winter storms, namely snowstorms and ice storms, are a major hazard and forecasting challenge across central North Carolina. This study employed a trajectory approach to analyze the ingredients (i.e., temperature, moisture, and lift) associated with heavy snowstorms and ice storms that occurred within the Raleigh, North Carolina, National Weather Service forecast region from 2000 to 2010. The Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) tool was used to calculate 72-h backward (i.e., upstream) air parcel trajectories from three critical vertical pressure levels at the time and location of heaviest precipitation for each storm. Analysis of composite trajectories revealed the source regions and meteorological properties of air parcels associated with heavy winter storms. Adiabatic and diabatic contributions to air parcel temperature and moisture content were also estimated along each trajectory to assess the physical processes connected with heavy winter precipitation in the region. Results indicate that diabatic warming and cooling contribute significantly to the vertical temperature profile during heavy winter storms and therefore dictate the resulting precipitation type. The main source of diabatic warming is fluxes of sensible and latent heat within the marine atmospheric boundary layer over the Gulf Stream. These fluxes contribute to a warming and moistening of air parcels associated with heavy ice storms. In contrast, heavy snowstorms are characterized by diabatic cooling in the lower troposphere above the marine atmospheric boundary layer. The most significant moisture source for heavy snowfall is the Caribbean Sea, while heavy ice storms entrain moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Stream region near the Carolina coast.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Christopher M. Fuhrmann, Southeast Regional Climate Center, Dept. of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3220. E-mail: fuhrmann@unc.edu
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