Downslope Windstorm Forecasting: Easier with a Critical Level, but Still Challenging for High-Resolution Ensembles

Johnathan J. Metz aUniversity of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6294-3958
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Dale R. Durran aUniversity of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

Strong downslope windstorms can cause extensive property damage and extreme wildfire spread, so their accurate prediction is important. Although some early studies suggested high predictability for downslope windstorms, more recent analyses have found limited predictability for such winds. Nevertheless, there is a theoretical basis for expecting higher downslope wind predictability in cases with a mean-state critical level, and this is supported by one previous effort to forecast actual events. To more thoroughly investigate downslope windstorm predictability, we compare archived simulations from the NCAR ensemble, a 10-member mesoscale ensemble run at 3-km horizontal grid spacing over the entire contiguous United States, to observed events at 15 stations in the western United States susceptible to strong downslope winds. We assess predictability in three contexts: the average ensemble spread, which provides an estimate of potential predictability; a forecast evaluation based upon binary-decision criteria, which is representative of operational hazard warnings; and a probabilistic forecast evaluation using the continuous ranked probability score (CRPS), which is a measure of an ensemble’s ability to generate the proper probability distribution for the events under consideration. We do find better predictive skill for the mean-state critical-level regime in comparison to other downslope windstorm–generating mechanisms. Our downslope windstorm warning performance, calculated using binary-decision criteria from the bias-corrected ensemble forecasts, performed slightly worse for no-critical-level events, and slightly better for critical-level events, than National Weather Service high-wind warnings aggregated over all types of high-wind events throughout the United States and annually averaged for each year between 2008 and 2019.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Dale R. Durran, drdee@uw.edu

Abstract

Strong downslope windstorms can cause extensive property damage and extreme wildfire spread, so their accurate prediction is important. Although some early studies suggested high predictability for downslope windstorms, more recent analyses have found limited predictability for such winds. Nevertheless, there is a theoretical basis for expecting higher downslope wind predictability in cases with a mean-state critical level, and this is supported by one previous effort to forecast actual events. To more thoroughly investigate downslope windstorm predictability, we compare archived simulations from the NCAR ensemble, a 10-member mesoscale ensemble run at 3-km horizontal grid spacing over the entire contiguous United States, to observed events at 15 stations in the western United States susceptible to strong downslope winds. We assess predictability in three contexts: the average ensemble spread, which provides an estimate of potential predictability; a forecast evaluation based upon binary-decision criteria, which is representative of operational hazard warnings; and a probabilistic forecast evaluation using the continuous ranked probability score (CRPS), which is a measure of an ensemble’s ability to generate the proper probability distribution for the events under consideration. We do find better predictive skill for the mean-state critical-level regime in comparison to other downslope windstorm–generating mechanisms. Our downslope windstorm warning performance, calculated using binary-decision criteria from the bias-corrected ensemble forecasts, performed slightly worse for no-critical-level events, and slightly better for critical-level events, than National Weather Service high-wind warnings aggregated over all types of high-wind events throughout the United States and annually averaged for each year between 2008 and 2019.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Dale R. Durran, drdee@uw.edu
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