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Christopher Polster
and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Recently, Nakamura and Huang proposed a theory of blocking onset based on the budget of finite-amplitude local wave activity on the midlatitude waveguide. Blocks form in their idealized model due to a mechanism that also describes the emergence of traffic jams in traffic theory. The current work investigates the development of a winter European block in terms of finite-amplitude local wave activity to evaluate the possible relevance of the “traffic jam” mechanism for the flow transition. Two hundred members of a medium-range ensemble forecast of the blocking onset period are analyzed with correlation- and cluster-based sensitivity techniques. Diagnostic evidence points to a traffic jam onset on 17 December 2016. Block development is sensitive to upstream Rossby wave activity up to 1.5 days prior to its initiation and consistent with expectations from the idealized theory. Eastward transport of finite-amplitude local wave activity in the southern part of the block is suppressed by nonlinear flux modification from the large-amplitude blocking pattern, consistent with the expected obstruction in the traffic jam model. The relationship of finite-amplitude local wave activity and its zonal flux as mapped by the ensemble exhibits established characteristics of a traffic jam. This study suggests that the traffic jam mechanism may play an important role in some cases of blocking onset and more generally that applying finite-amplitude local wave activity diagnostics to ensemble data is a promising approach for the further examination of individual onset events in light of the Nakamura and Huang theory.

Significance Statement

Blocking is an occasional phenomenon in the mid- and high-latitude atmosphere characterized by the stalling of weather systems. Episodes of blocking are linked to extreme weather but their occurrence is not completely understood. A recent theory suggests that blocks may form in the jet stream like traffic jams on a highway. The onset mechanism contained in the theory could explain why forecasts of blocking are sometimes poor. In this work, we investigate the formation of a 2016 European winter block in the context of the traffic jam theory. Though questions remain regarding the implications for forecast uncertainty, our findings strongly support the notion of a traffic jam onset.

Open access
Tobias Selz
,
Michael Riemer
, and
George C. Craig

Abstract

This study investigates the transition from current practical predictability of midlatitude weather to its intrinsic limit. For this purpose, estimates of the current initial condition uncertainty of 12 real cases are reduced in several steps from 100% to 0.1% and propagated in time with a global numerical weather prediction model (ICON at 40 km resolution) that is extended by a stochastic convection scheme to better represent error growth from unresolved motions. With the provision that the perfect model assumption is sufficiently valid, it is found that the potential forecast improvement that could be obtained by perfecting the initial conditions is 4–5 days. This improvement is essentially achieved with an initial condition uncertainty reduction by 90% relative to current conditions, at which point the dominant error growth mechanism changes: With respect to physical processes, a transition occurs from rotationally driven initial error growth to error growth dominated by latent heat release in convection and due to the divergent component of the flow. With respect to spatial scales, a transition from large-scale up-amplitude error growth to a very rapid initial error growth on small scales is found. Reference experiments with a deterministic convection scheme show a 5%–10% longer predictability, but only if the initial condition uncertainty is small. These results confirm that planetary-scale predictability is intrinsically limited by rapid error growth due to latent heat release in clouds through an upscale-interaction process, while this interaction process is unimportant on average for current levels of initial condition uncertainty.

Significance Statement

Weather predictions provide high socioeconomic value and have been greatly improved over the last decades. However, it is widely believed that there is an intrinsic limit to how far into the future the weather can be predicted. Using numerical simulations with an innovative representation of convection, we are able to confirm the existence of this limit and to demonstrate which physical processes are responsible. We further provide quantitative estimates for the limit and the remaining improvement potential. These results make clear that our current weather prediction capabilities are not yet maxed out and could still be significantly improved with advancements in atmospheric observation and simulation technology in the upcoming decades.

Open access
Jan Wandel
,
Julian F. Quinting
, and
Christian M. Grams

Abstract

Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) associated with extratropical cyclones transport air from the lower troposphere into the tropopause region and contribute to upper-level ridge building and the formation of blocking anticyclones. Recent studies indicate that this constitutes an important source and magnifier of forecast uncertainty and errors in numerical weather prediction (NWP) models. However, a systematic evaluation of the representation of WCBs in NWP models has yet to be determined. Here, we employ the logistic regression models developed in Part I to identify the inflow, ascent, and outflow stages of WCBs in the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) subseasonal reforecasts for Northern Hemisphere winter in the period January 1997 to December 2017. We verify the representation of these WCB stages in terms of systematic occurrence frequency biases, forecast reliability, and forecast skill. Systematic WCB frequency biases emerge already at early lead times of around 3 days with an underestimation for the WCB outflow over the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific of around 40% relative to climatology. Biases in the predictor variables of the logistic regression models can partially explain these biases in WCB inflow, ascent, or outflow. Despite an overconfidence in predicting high WCB probabilities, skillful WCB forecasts are on average possible up to a lead time of 8–10 days with more skill over the North Pacific compared to the North Atlantic region. Our results corroborate that the current limited forecast skill for the large-scale extratropical circulation on subseasonal time scales beyond 10 days might be tied to the representation of WCBs and associated upscale error growth.

Open access
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
Julian F. Quinting
and
Christian M. Grams

Abstract

The physical and dynamical processes associated with warm conveyor belts (WCBs) importantly affect midlatitude dynamics and are sources of forecast uncertainty. Moreover, WCBs modulate the large-scale extratropical circulation and can communicate and amplify forecast errors. Therefore, it is desirable to assess the representation of WCBs in numerical weather prediction (NWP) models in particular on the medium to subseasonal forecast range. Most often, WCBs are identified as coherent bundles of Lagrangian trajectories that ascend in a time interval of 2 days from the lower to the upper troposphere. Although this Lagrangian approach has advanced the understanding of the involved processes significantly, the calculation of trajectories is computationally expensive and requires NWP data at a high spatial [O(~1)], vertical [O(~10hPa)], and temporal resolution [O(~36h)]. In this study, we present a statistical framework that derives footprints of WCBs from coarser NWP data that are routinely available. To this end, gridpoint-specific multivariate logistic regression models are developed for the Northern Hemisphere using meteorological parameters from ERA-Interim data as predictors and binary footprints of WCB inflow, ascent, and outflow based on a Lagrangian dataset as predictands. Stepwise forward selection identifies the most important predictors for these three WCB stages. The logistic models are reliable in replicating the climatological frequency of WCBs as well as the footprints of WCBs at instantaneous time steps. The novel framework is a first step toward a systematic evaluation of WCB representation in large datasets such as subseasonal ensemble reforecasts or climate projections.

Full access
Kevin Wolf
,
André Ehrlich
,
Mario Mech
,
Robin J. Hogan
, and
Manfred Wendisch

Abstract

A novel approach to compare airborne observations of solar spectral irradiances measured above clouds with along-track radiative transfer simulations (RTS) is presented. The irradiance measurements were obtained with the Spectral Modular Airborne Radiation Measurement System (SMART) installed on the High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft (HALO). The RTS were conducted using the operational ecRad radiation scheme of the Integrated Forecast System (IFS), operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and a stand-alone radiative transfer solver, the library for Radiative transfer (libRadtran). Profiles of observed and simulated radar reflectivity were provided by the HALO Microwave Package (HAMP) and the Passive and Active Microwave Transfer Model (PAMTRA), respectively. The comparison aims to investigate the capability of the two models to reproduce the observed radiation field. By analyzing spectral irradiances above clouds, different ice cloud optical parameterizations in the models were evaluated. Simulated and observed radar reflectivity fields allowed the vertical representation of the clouds modeled by the IFS to be evaluated, and enabled errors in the IFS analysis data (IFS AD) and the observations to be separated. The investigation of a North Atlantic low pressure system showed that the RTS, in combination with the IFS AD, generally reproduced the observed radiation field. For heterogeneously distributed liquid water clouds, an underestimation of upward irradiance by up to 27% was found. Simulations of ice-topped clouds, using a specific ice optics parameterization, indicated a systematic underestimation of broadband cloud-top albedo, suggesting major deficiencies in the ice optics parameterization between 1242 and 1941 nm wavelength.

Free access
Mares Barekzai
and
Bernhard Mayer

Abstract

Despite impressive advances in rain forecasts over the past decades, our understanding of rain formation on a microphysical scale is still poor. Droplet growth initially occurs through diffusion and, for sufficiently large radii, through the collision of droplets. However, there is no consensus on the mechanism to bridge the condensation coalescence bottleneck. We extend the analysis of prior methods by including radiatively enhanced diffusional growth (RAD) to a Markovian turbulence parameterization. This addition increases the diffusional growth efficiency by allowing for emission and absorption of thermal radiation. Specifically, we quantify an upper estimate for the radiative effect by focusing on droplets close to the cloud boundary. The strength of this simple model is that it determines growth-rate dependencies on a number of parameters, like updraft speed and the radiative effect, in a deterministic way. Realistic calculations with a cloud-resolving model are sensitive to parameter changes, which may cause completely different cloud realizations and thus it requires considerable computational power to obtain statistically significant results. The simulations suggest that the addition of radiative cooling can lead to a doubling of the droplet size standard deviation. However, the magnitude of the increase depends strongly on the broadening established by turbulence, due to an increase in the maximum droplet size, which accelerates the production of drizzle. Furthermore, the broadening caused by the combination of turbulence and thermal radiation is largest for small updrafts and the impact of radiation increases with time until it becomes dominant for slow synoptic updrafts.

Free access
Paolo Ghinassi
,
Marlene Baumgart
,
Franziska Teubler
,
Michael Riemer
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Recently, the authors proposed a novel diagnostic to quantify the amplitude of Rossby wave packets. This diagnostic extends the local finite-amplitude wave activity (LWA) of N. Nakamura and collaborators to the primitive-equations framework and combines it with a zonal filter to remove the phase dependence. In the present work, this diagnostic is used to investigate the dynamics of upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets, with a particular focus on distinguishing between conservative dynamics and nonconservative processes. For this purpose, a budget equation for filtered LWA is derived and its utility is tested in a hierarchy of models. Idealized simulations with a barotropic and a dry primitive-equation model confirm the ability of the LWA diagnostic to identify nonconservative local sources or sinks of wave activity. In addition, the LWA budget is applied to forecast data for an episode in which the amplitude of an upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packet was poorly represented. The analysis attributes deficiencies in the Rossby wave packet amplitude to the misrepresentation of diabatic processes and illuminates the importance of the upper-level divergent outflow as a source for the error in the wave packet amplitude.

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
Tobias Selz
,
Lotte Bierdel
, and
George C. Craig

Abstract

Research on the mesoscale kinetic energy spectrum over the past few decades has focused on finding a dynamical mechanism that gives rise to a universal spectral slope. Here we investigate the variability of the spectrum using 3 years of kilometer-resolution analyses from COSMO configured for Germany (COSMO-DE). It is shown that the mesoscale kinetic energy spectrum is highly variable in time but that a minimum in variability is found on scales around 100 km. The high variability found on the small-scale end of the spectrum (around 10 km) is positively correlated with the precipitation rate where convection is a strong source of variance. On the other hand, variability on the large-scale end (around 1000 km) is correlated with the potential vorticity, as expected for geostrophically balanced flows. Accordingly, precipitation at small scales is more highly correlated with divergent kinetic energy, and potential vorticity at large scales is more highly correlated with rotational kinetic energy. The presented findings suggest that the spectral slope and amplitude on the mesoscale range are governed by an ever-changing combination of the upscale and downscale impacts of these large- and small-scale dynamical processes rather than by a universal, intrinsically mesoscale dynamical mechanism.

Open access