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Volkmar Wirth and Christopher Polster

Abstract

The waveguidability of an upper-tropospheric zonal jet quantifies its propensity to duct Rossby waves in the zonal direction. This property has played a central role in previous attempts to explain large wave amplitudes and the subsequent occurrence of extreme weather. In these studies, waveguidability was diagnosed with the help of ray tracing arguments using the zonal average of the observed flow as the relevant background state. Here, it is argued that this method is problematic both conceptually and mathematically. The issue is investigated in the framework of the nondivergent barotropic model. This model allows the straightforward computation of an alternative “zonalized” background state, which is obtained through conservative symmetrization of potential vorticity contours and that is argued to be superior to the zonal average. Using an idealized prototypical flow configuration with large-amplitude eddies, it is shown that the two different choices for the background state yield very different results; in particular, the zonal-mean background state diagnoses a zonal waveguide, while the zonalized background state does not. This result suggests that the existence of a waveguide in the zonal-mean background state is a consequence of, rather than a precondition for, large wave amplitudes, and it would mean that the direction of causality is opposite to the usual argument. The analysis is applied to two heatwave episodes from summer 2003 and 2010, yielding essentially the same result. It is concluded that previous arguments about the role of waveguidability for extreme weather need to be carefully reevaluated to prevent misinterpretation in the future.

Open access
Eva-Maria Walz, Marlon Maranan, Roderick van der Linden, Andreas H. Fink, and Peter Knippertz

Abstract

Current numerical weather prediction models show limited skill in predicting low-latitude precipitation. To aid future improvements, be it with better dynamical or statistical models, we propose a well-defined benchmark forecast. We use the arguably best available high-resolution, gauge-calibrated, gridded precipitation product, the Integrated Multisatellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) “final run” in a ±15-day window around the date of interest to build an empirical climatological ensemble forecast. This window size is an optimal compromise between statistical robustness and flexibility to represent seasonal changes. We refer to this benchmark as extended probabilistic climatology (EPC) and compute it on a 0.1° × 0.1° grid for 40°S–40°N and the period 2001–19. To reduce and standardize information, a mixed Bernoulli–Gamma distribution is fitted to the empirical EPC, which hardly affects predictive performance. The EPC is then compared to 1-day ensemble predictions from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) using standard verification scores. With respect to rainfall amount, ECMWF performs only slightly better than EPS over most of the low latitudes and worse over high-mountain and dry oceanic areas as well as over tropical Africa, where the lack of skill is also evident in independent station data. For rainfall occurrence, EPC is superior over most oceanic, coastal, and mountain regions, although the better potential predictive ability of ECMWF indicates that this is mostly due to calibration problems. To encourage the use of the new benchmark, we provide the data, scripts, and an interactive web tool to the scientific community.

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

Abstract

Precipitation forecasts are of large societal value in the tropics. Here, we compare 1–5-day ensemble predictions from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF, 2009–17) and the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC, 2009–16) over 30°S–30°N with an extended probabilistic climatology based on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission 3 B42 gridded dataset. Both models predict rainfall occurrence better than the reference only over about half of all land points, with a better performance by MSC. After applying the postprocessing technique ensemble model output statistics, this fraction increases to 87% (ECMWF) and 82% (MSC). For rainfall amount there is skill in many tropical areas (about 60% of land points), which can be increased by postprocessing to 97% (ECMWF) and 88% (MSC). Forecasts for extremes (>20 mm) are only marginally worse than those of occurrence but do not improve as much through postprocessing, particularly over dry areas. Forecast performance is generally best over arid Australia and worst over oceanic deserts, the Andes and Himalayas, as well as over tropical Africa, where models misrepresent the high degree of convective organization, such that even postprocessed forecasts are hardly better than climatology. Skill of 5-day accumulated forecasts often exceeds that of shorter ranges, as timing errors matter less. An increase in resolution and major model update in 2010 has significantly improved ECMWF predictions. Especially over tropical Africa new techniques such as convection-permitting models or combined statistical-dynamical forecasts may be needed to generate skill beyond the climatological reference.

Open access
Kevin Bachmann, Christian Keil, George C. Craig, Martin Weissmann, and Christian A. Welzbacher

Abstract

We investigate the practical predictability limits of deep convection in a state-of-the-art, high-resolution, limited-area ensemble prediction system. A combination of sophisticated predictability measures, namely, believable and decorrelation scale, are applied to determine the predictable scales of short-term forecasts in a hierarchy of model configurations. First, we consider an idealized perfect model setup that includes both small-scale and synoptic-scale perturbations. We find increased predictability in the presence of orography and a strongly beneficial impact of radar data assimilation, which extends the forecast horizon by up to 6 h. Second, we examine realistic COSMO-KENDA simulations, including assimilation of radar and conventional data and a representation of model errors, for a convectively active two-week summer period over Germany. The results confirm increased predictability in orographic regions. We find that both latent heat nudging and ensemble Kalman filter assimilation of radar data lead to increased forecast skill, but the impact is smaller than in the idealized experiments. This highlights the need to assimilate spatially and temporally dense data, but also indicates room for further improvement. Finally, the examination of operational COSMO-DE-EPS ensemble forecasts for three summer periods confirms the beneficial impact of orography in a statistical sense and also reveals increased predictability in weather regimes controlled by synoptic forcing, as defined by the convective adjustment time scale.

Free access
Mirjam Hirt, Stephan Rasp, Ulrich Blahak, and George C. Craig

Abstract

Kilometer-scale models allow for an explicit simulation of deep convective overturning but many subgrid processes that are crucial for convective initiation are still poorly represented. This leads to biases such as insufficient convection triggering and late peak of summertime convection. A physically based stochastic perturbation scheme (PSP) for subgrid processes has been proposed (Kober and Craig) that targets the coupling between subgrid turbulence and resolved convection. The first part of this study presents four modifications to this PSP scheme for subgrid turbulence: an autoregressive, continuously evolving random field; a limitation of the perturbations to the boundary layer that removes artificial convection at night; a mask that turns off perturbations in precipitating columns to retain coherent structures; and nondivergent wind perturbations that drastically increase the effectiveness of the vertical velocity perturbations. In a revised version, PSP2, the combined modifications retain the physically based coupling to the boundary layer scheme of the original scheme while removing undesirable side effects. This has the potential to improve predictions of convective initiation in kilometer-scale models while minimizing other biases. The second part of the study focuses on perturbations to account for convective initiation by subgrid orography. Here the mechanical lifting effect is modeled by introducing vertical and horizontal wind perturbations of an orographically induced gravity wave. The resulting perturbations lead to enhanced convective initiation over mountainous terrain. However, the total benefit of this scheme is unclear and we do not adopt the scheme in our revised configuration.

Free access
Christian Euler, Michael Riemer, Tobias Kremer, and Elmar Schömer

Abstract

Extratropical transition (ET) of tropical cyclones involves distinct changes of the cyclone’s structure that are not yet well understood. This study presents for the first time a comprehensive Lagrangian description of structure change near the inner core. A large sample of trajectories is computed from a convection-permitting numerical simulation of the ET of Tropical Storm Karl (2016). Three main airstreams are considered: those associated with the inner-core convection, inner-core descent, and the developing warm conveyor belt. Analysis of these airstreams is performed both in thermodynamic and physical space. Prior to ET, Karl is embedded in weak vertical wind shear and its intensity is impeded by excessive detrainment from the inner-core convection. At the start of ET, vertical shear increases and Karl intensifies, which is attributable to reduced detrainment and thus to the formation of a well-defined outflow layer. During ET, the thermodynamic changes of the environment impact Karl’s inner-core convection predominantly by a decrease of θ e values in the inflow layer. Notably, notwithstanding Karl’s weak intensity, its inner core acts as a “containment vessel” that transports high-θ e air into the increasingly hostile environment. Inner-core descent has two origins: (i) mostly from upshear-left above 4-km height in the environment and (ii) boundary layer air that ascends in the inner core first and then descends, performing rollercoaster-like trajectories. At the end of the tropical phase of ET, the developing warm conveyor belt comprises air masses from several different source regions, and only partly from the cyclone’s developing warm sector, as expected for extratropical cyclones.

Open access
Marlene Baumgart, Paolo Ghinassi, Volkmar Wirth, Tobias Selz, George C. Craig, and Michael Riemer

Abstract

Two diagnostics based on potential vorticity and the envelope of Rossby waves are used to investigate upscale error growth from a dynamical perspective. The diagnostics are applied to several cases of global, real-case ensemble simulations, in which the only difference between the ensemble members lies in the random seed of the stochastic convection scheme. Based on a tendency equation for the enstrophy error, the relative importance of individual processes to enstrophy-error growth near the tropopause is quantified. After the enstrophy error is saturated on the synoptic scale, the envelope diagnostic is used to investigate error growth up to the planetary scale. The diagnostics reveal distinct stages of the error growth: in the first 12 h, error growth is dominated by differences in the convection scheme. Differences in the upper-tropospheric divergent wind then project these diabatic errors into the tropopause region (day 0.5–2). The subsequent error growth (day 2–14.5) is governed by differences in the nonlinear near-tropopause dynamics. A fourth stage of the error growth is found up to 18 days when the envelope diagnostic indicates error growth from the synoptic up to the planetary scale. Previous ideas of the multiscale nature of upscale error growth are confirmed in general. However, a novel interpretation of the governing processes is provided. The insight obtained into the dynamics of upscale error growth may help to design representations of uncertainty in operational forecast models and to identify atmospheric conditions that are intrinsically prone to large error amplification.

Open access
Andreas Schlueter, Andreas H. Fink, and Peter Knippertz

Abstract

This study presents the first systematic comparison of the dynamics and thermodynamics associated with all major tropical wave types causing rainfall modulation over northern tropical Africa: the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), equatorial Rossby waves (ERs), tropical disturbances (TDs, including African easterly waves), Kelvin waves, mixed Rossby–gravity waves (MRGs), and eastward inertio-gravity waves (EIGs). Reanalysis and radiosonde data were analyzed for the period 1981–2013 based on space–time filtering of outgoing longwave radiation. The identified circulation patterns are largely consistent with theory. The slow modes, MJO and ER, mainly impact precipitable water, whereas the faster TDs, Kelvin waves, and MRGs primarily modulate moisture convergence. Monsoonal inflow intensifies during wet phases of the MJO, ERs, and MRGs, associated with a northward shift of the intertropical discontinuity for MJO and ERs. This study reveals that MRGs over Africa have a distinct dynamical structure that differs significantly from AEWs. During passages of vertically tilted imbalanced wave modes, such as the MJO, TDs, Kelvin waves, and partly MRG waves, increased vertical wind shear and improved conditions for up- and downdrafts facilitate the organization of mesoscale convective systems. The balanced ERs are not tilted, and rainfall is triggered by large-scale moistening and stratiform lifting. The MJO and ERs interact with intraseasonal variations of the Indian monsoon and extratropical Rossby wave trains. The latter causes a trough over the Atlas Mountains associated with a tropical plume and rainfall over the Sahara. The presented results unveil which dynamical processes need to be modeled realistically to represent the coupling between tropical waves and rainfall in northern tropical Africa.

Open access
Tobias Selz

Abstract

Global model simulations together with a stochastic convection scheme are used to assess the intrinsic limit of predictability that originates from convection up to planetary scales. The stochastic convection scheme has been shown to introduce an appropriate amount of variability onto the model grid without the need to resolve the convection explicitly. This largely reduces computational costs and enables a set of 12 cases equally distributed over 1 year with five ensemble members for each case, generated by the stochastic convection scheme. As a metric, difference kinetic energy at 300 hPa over the midlatitudes, both north and south, is used. With this metric the intrinsic limit is estimated to be about 17 days when a threshold of 80% of the saturation level is applied. The error level at 3.5 days roughly compares to the initial-condition uncertainty of the current ECMWF data assimilation system, which suggests a potential improvement of 3.5 forecast days through perfecting the initial conditions. Error-growth experiments that use a deterministic convection scheme show smaller errors of about half the size at early forecast times and an estimate of intrinsic predictability that is about 10% longer, confirming the overconfidence of deterministic convection schemes.

Open access
Andreas Schlueter, Andreas H. Fink, Peter Knippertz, and Peter Vogel

Abstract

Low-latitude rainfall variability on the daily to intraseasonal time scale is often related to tropical waves, including convectively coupled equatorial waves, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and tropical disturbances (TDs). Despite the importance of rainfall variability for vulnerable societies in tropical Africa, the relative influence of tropical waves for this region is largely unknown. This article presents the first systematic comparison of the impact of six wave types on precipitation over northern tropical Africa during the transition and full monsoon seasons, using two satellite products and a dense rain gauge network. Composites of rainfall anomalies in the different datasets show comparable modulation intensities in the West Sahel and at the Guinea Coast, varying from less than 2 to above 7 mm day−1 depending on the wave type. African easterly waves (AEWs) and Kelvin waves dominate the 3-hourly to daily time scale and explain 10%–30% locally. On longer time scales (7–20 days), only the MJO and equatorial Rossby (ER) waves remain as modulating factors and explain about up to one-third of rainfall variability. Eastward inertio-gravity waves and mixed Rossby–gravity (MRG) waves are comparatively unimportant. An analysis of wave superposition shows that low-frequency waves (MJO, ER) in their wet phase amplify the activity of high-frequency waves (TD, MRG) and suppress them in the dry phase. The results stress that more attention should be paid to tropical waves when forecasting rainfall over northern tropical Africa.

Open access