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  • Diabatic Influence on Mesoscale Structures in Extratropical Storms (DIAMET) x
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H. F. Dacre, P. A. Clark, O. Martinez-Alvarado, M. A. Stringer, and D. A. Lavers


The term “atmospheric river” is used to describe corridors of strong water vapor transport in the troposphere. Filaments of enhanced water vapor, commonly observed in satellite imagery extending from the subtropics to the extratropics, are routinely used as a proxy for identifying these regions of strong water vapor transport. The precipitation associated with these filaments of enhanced water vapor can lead to high-impact flooding events. However, there remains some debate as to how these filaments form. In this paper, the authors analyze the transport of water vapor within a climatology of wintertime North Atlantic extratropical cyclones. Results show that atmospheric rivers are formed by the cold front that sweeps up water vapor in the warm sector as it catches up with the warm front. This causes a narrow band of high water vapor content to form ahead of the cold front at the base of the warm conveyor belt airflow. Thus, water vapor in the cyclone’s warm sector, not long-distance transport of water vapor from the subtropics, is responsible for the generation of filaments of high water vapor content. A continuous cycle of evaporation and moisture convergence within the cyclone replenishes water vapor lost via precipitation. Thus, rather than representing a direct and continuous feed of moist air from the subtropics into the center of a cyclone (as suggested by the term “atmospheric river”), these filaments are, in fact, the result of water vapor exported from the cyclone, and thus they represent the footprints left behind as cyclones travel poleward from the subtropics.

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G. Vaughan, J. Methven, D. Anderson, B. Antonescu, L. Baker, T. P. Baker, S. P. Ballard, K. N. Bower, P. R. A. Brown, J. Chagnon, T. W. Choularton, J. Chylik, P. J. Connolly, P. A. Cook, R. J. Cotton, J. Crosier, C. Dearden, J. R. Dorsey, T. H. A. Frame, M. W. Gallagher, M. Goodliff, S. L. Gray, B. J. Harvey, P. Knippertz, H. W. Lean, D. Li, G. Lloyd, O. Martínez–Alvarado, J. Nicol, J. Norris, E. Öström, J. Owen, D. J. Parker, R. S. Plant, I. A. Renfrew, N. M. Roberts, P. Rosenberg, A. C. Rudd, D. M. Schultz, J. P. Taylor, T. Trzeciak, R. Tubbs, A. K. Vance, P. J. van Leeuwen, A. Wellpott, and A. Woolley


The Diabatic Influences on Mesoscale Structures in Extratropical Storms (DIAMET) project aims to improve forecasts of high-impact weather in extratropical cyclones through field measurements, high-resolution numerical modeling, and improved design of ensemble forecasting and data assimilation systems. This article introduces DIAMET and presents some of the first results. Four field campaigns were conducted by the project, one of which, in late 2011, coincided with an exceptionally stormy period marked by an unusually strong, zonal North Atlantic jet stream and a succession of severe windstorms in northwest Europe. As a result, December 2011 had the highest monthly North Atlantic Oscillation index (2.52) of any December in the last 60 years. Detailed observations of several of these storms were gathered using the U.K.’s BAe 146 research aircraft and extensive ground-based measurements. As an example of the results obtained during the campaign, observations are presented of Extratropical Cyclone Friedhelm on 8 December 2011, when surface winds with gusts exceeding 30 m s–1 crossed central Scotland, leading to widespread disruption to transportation and electricity supply. Friedhelm deepened 44 hPa in 24 h and developed a pronounced bent-back front wrapping around the storm center. The strongest winds at 850 hPa and the surface occurred in the southern quadrant of the storm, and detailed measurements showed these to be most intense in clear air between bands of showers. High-resolution ensemble forecasts from the Met Office showed similar features, with the strongest winds aligned in linear swaths between the bands, suggesting that there is potential for improved skill in forecasts of damaging winds.

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