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Peter Vogel
,
Peter Knippertz
,
Andreas H. Fink
,
Andreas Schlueter
, and
Tilmann Gneiting

Abstract

Accumulated precipitation forecasts are of high socioeconomic importance for agriculturally dominated societies in northern tropical Africa. In this study, the performance of nine operational global ensemble prediction systems (EPSs) is analyzed relative to climatology-based forecasts for 1–5-day accumulated precipitation based on the monsoon seasons during 2007–14 for three regions within northern tropical Africa. To assess the full potential of raw ensemble forecasts across spatial scales, state-of-the-art statistical postprocessing methods were applied in the form of Bayesian model averaging (BMA) and ensemble model output statistics (EMOS), and results were verified against station and spatially aggregated, satellite-based gridded observations. Raw ensemble forecasts are uncalibrated and unreliable, and often underperform relative to climatology, independently of region, accumulation time, monsoon season, and ensemble. The differences between raw ensemble and climatological forecasts are large and partly stem from poor prediction for low precipitation amounts. BMA and EMOS postprocessed forecasts are calibrated, reliable, and strongly improve on the raw ensembles but, somewhat disappointingly, typically do not outperform climatology. Most EPSs exhibit slight improvements over the period 2007–14, but overall they have little added value compared to climatology. The suspicion is that parameterization of convection is a potential cause for the sobering lack of ensemble forecast skill in a region dominated by mesoscale convective systems.

Open access
Stephan Rasp
,
Tobias Selz
, and
George C. Craig

Abstract

The statistical theory of convective variability developed by Craig and Cohen in 2006 has provided a promising foundation for the design of stochastic parameterizations. The simplifying assumptions of this theory, however, were made with tropical equilibrium convection in mind. This study investigates the predictions of the statistical theory in real-weather case studies of nonequilibrium summertime convection over land. For this purpose, a convection-permitting ensemble is used in which all members share the same large-scale weather conditions but the convection is displaced using stochastic boundary layer perturbations. The results show that the standard deviation of the domain-integrated mass flux is proportional to the square root of its mean over a wide range of scales. This confirms the general applicability and scale adaptivity of the Craig and Cohen theory for complex weather. However, clouds tend to cluster on scales of around 100 km, particularly in the morning and evening. This strongly impacts the theoretical predictions of the variability, which does not include clustering. Furthermore, the mass flux per cloud closely follows an exponential distribution if all clouds are considered together and if overlapping cloud objects are separated. The nonseparated cloud mass flux distribution resembles a power law. These findings support the use of the theory for stochastic parameterizations but also highlight areas for improvement.

Open access
Thomas Engel
,
Andreas H. Fink
,
Peter Knippertz
,
Gregor Pante
, and
Jan Bliefernicht

Abstract

Two extreme, high-impact events of heavy rainfall and severe floods in West African urban areas (Ouagadougou on 1 September 2009 and Dakar on 26 August 2012) are investigated with respect to their atmospheric causes and statistical return periods. In terms of the synoptic–convective dynamics, the Ouagadougou case is truly extraordinary. A succession of two slow-moving African easterly waves (AEWs) caused record-breaking values of tropospheric moisture. The second AEW, one of the strongest in recent decades, provided the synoptic forcing for the nighttime genesis of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). Ouagadougou was hit by two MCSs within 6 h, as the strong convergence and rotation in the AEW-related vortex allowed a swift moisture refueling. An AEW was also instrumental in the overnight development of MCSs in the Dakar case, but neither the AEW vortex nor the tropospheric moisture content was as exceptional as in the Ouagadougou case. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) 3B42 precipitation data show some promise in estimating centennial return values (RVs) using the “peak over threshold” approach with a generalized Pareto distribution fit, although indications for errors in estimating extreme rainfall over the arid Sahel are found. In contrast, the Precipitation Estimation from Remotely Sensed Information Using Artificial Neural Networks–Climate Data Record (PERSIANN-CDR) dataset seems less suitable for this purpose despite the longer record. Notably, the Ouagadougou event demonstrates that highly unusual dynamical developments can create extremes well outside of RV estimates from century-long rainfall observations. Future research will investigate whether such developments may become more frequent in a warmer climate.

Open access
Gabriel Wolf
and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

It has been suggested that upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets propagating along the midlatitude waveguide may play a role for triggering severe weather. This motivates the search for robust methods to detect and track Rossby wave packets and to diagnose their properties. In the framework of several observed cases, this paper compares different methods that have been proposed for these tasks, with an emphasis on horizontal propagation and on a particular formulation of a wave activity flux previously suggested by Takaya and Nakamura. The utility of this flux is compromised by the semigeostrophic nature of upper-tropospheric Rossby waves, but this problem can partly be overcome by a semigeostrophic coordinate transformation. The wave activity flux allows one to obtain information from a single snapshot about the meridional propagation, in particular propagation from or into polar and subtropical latitudes, as well as about the onset of wave breaking. This helps to clarify the dynamics of individual wave packets in cases where other, more conventional methods provide ambiguous or even misleading information. In some cases, the “true dynamics” of the Rossby wave packet turns out to be more complex than apparent from the more conventional diagnostics, and this may have important implications for the predictability of the wave packet.

Full access
Roderick van der Linden
,
Andreas H. Fink
,
Joaquim G. Pinto
, and
Tan Phan-Van

Abstract

A record-breaking rainfall event occurred in northeastern Vietnam in late July–early August 2015. The coastal region in Quang Ninh Province was hit severely, with station rainfall sums in the range of 1000–1500 mm. The heavy rainfall led to flooding and landslides, which resulted in an estimated economic loss of $108 million (U.S. dollars) and 32 fatalities. Using a multitude of data sources and ECMWF ensemble forecasts, the synoptic–dynamic development and practical predictability of the event is investigated in detail for the 4-day period from 1200 UTC 25 July to 1200 UTC 29 July 2015, during which the major portion of the rainfall was observed. A slowly moving upper-level subtropical trough and the associated surface low in the northern Gulf of Tonkin promoted sustained moisture convergence and convection over northeastern Vietnam. The humidity was advected in a moisture transport band lying across the Indochina Peninsula and emanating from a tropical storm over the Bay of Bengal. Analyses of the ECMWF ensemble forecasts clearly showed a sudden emergence of the predictability of the extreme event at lead times of 3 days that was associated with the correct forecasts of the intensity and location of the subtropical trough in the 51 ensemble members. Thus, the Quang Ninh event is a good example in which the predictability of tropical convection arises from large-scale synoptic forcing; in the present case it was due to a tropical–extratropical interaction that has not been documented before for the region and season.

Full access
Tobias Selz
,
Lucas Fischer
, and
George C. Craig

Abstract

The spatial scale dependence of midlatitude water vapor variability in the high-resolution limited-area model COSMO is evaluated using diagnostics of scaling behavior. Past analysis of airborne lidar measurements showed that structure function scaling exponents depend on the corresponding airmass characteristics, and that a classification of the troposphere into convective and nonconvective layers led to significantly different power-law behaviors for each of these two regimes. In particular, scaling properties in the convective air mass were characterized by rough and highly intermittent data series, whereas the nonconvective regime was dominated by smoother structures with weaker small-scale variability. This study finds similar results in a model simulation with an even more pronounced distinction between the two air masses. Quantitative scaling diagnostics agree well with measurements in the nonconvective air mass, whereas in the convective air mass the simulation shows a much higher intermittency. Sensitivity analyses were performed using the model data to assess the impact of limitations of the observational dataset, which indicate that analyses of lidar data most likely underestimated the intermittency in convective air masses due to the small samples from single flight tracks, which led to a bias when data with poor fits were rejected. Though the quantitative estimation of intermittency remains uncertain for convective air masses, the ability of the model to capture the dominant weather regime dependence of water vapor scaling properties is encouraging.

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Stephan Rasp
,
Tobias Selz
, and
George C. Craig

Abstract

Air parcel ascent in midlatitude cyclones driven by latent heat release has been investigated using convection-permitting simulations together with an online trajectory calculation scheme. Three cyclones were simulated to represent different ascent regimes: one continental summer case, which developed strong convection organized along a cold front; one marine winter case representing a slantwise ascending warm conveyor belt; and one autumn case, which contains both ascent types as well as mesoscale convective systems. Distributions of ascent times differ significantly in mean and shape between the convective summertime case and the synoptic wintertime case, with the mean ascent time being one order of magnitude larger for the latter. For the autumn case the distribution is a superposition of both ascent types, which could be separated spatially and temporally in the simulation. In the slowly ascending airstreams a significant portion of the parcels still experienced short phases of convective ascent. These are linked to line convection in the boundary layer for the wintertime case and an elevated conditionally unstable layer in the autumn case. Potential vorticity (PV) modification during ascent has also been investigated. Despite the different ascent characteristics it was found that net PV change between inflow and outflow levels is very close to zero in all cases. The spread of individual PV values, however, is increased after the ascent. This effect is more pronounced for convective trajectories.

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Kirstin Kober
and
George C. Craig

Abstract

Stochastic perturbations allow for the representation of small-scale variability due to unresolved physical processes. However, the properties of this variability depend on model resolution and weather regime. A physically based method is presented for introducing stochastic perturbations into kilometer-scale atmospheric models that explicitly account for these dependencies. The amplitude of the perturbations is based on information obtained from the model’s subgrid turbulence parameterization, while the spatial and temporal correlations are based on physical length and time scales of the turbulent motions. The stochastic perturbations lead to triggering of additional convective cells and improved precipitation amounts in simulations of two days with weak synoptic forcing of convection but different amounts of precipitation. The perturbations had little impact in a third case study, where precipitation was mainly associated with a cold front. In contrast, an unphysical version of the scheme with constant perturbation amplitude performed poorly since there was no perturbation amplitude that would give improved amounts of precipitation during the day without generating spurious convection at other times.

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