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Richard S. Lindzen
and
Gerard Roe

Abstract

This note corrects a numerical error in a prior work of Lindzen. The correction eliminates the strong sensitivity found in the earlier paper to the details of the concentration of potential vorticity gradients at the tropopause. Remaining sensitivities in the simple calculations presented are largely related to variations in the basic state’s zonal wind.

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Gerard H. Roe
and
Richard S. Lindzen

Abstract

Baroclinic instability in two-level models is characterized by a critical vertical shear, for values above which the flow is unstable. Existing studies of nonlinear baroclinic equilibration in two-level models suggest that, while equilibration does occur, it does so for values of vertical shear that are supercritical. The criterion used for the critical shear, however, ignores nonlinear changes in barotropic (meridional) shear. The present note estimates, using the two-scale formalism, the effect of both jet scale and damping on the critical value of vertical shear. The results suggest the barotropic shear in the equilibrated states may be sufficient, in the presence of damping, to render the equilibrated states neutral. More generally, it appears important to take account of the nature of the evolved flow when assessing the stability properties of the equilibrated state.

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Gerard H. Roe
and
Marcia B. Baker

Abstract

The language of feedbacks is ubiquitous in contemporary earth sciences, and the framework of feedback analysis is a powerful tool for diagnosing the relative strengths of the myriad mutual interactions that occur in complex dynamical systems. The ice albedo feedback is widely taught as the classic example of a climate feedback. Moreover, its potential to initiate a collapse to a completely glaciated snowball earth is widely taught as the classic example of a climate “tipping point.” A feedback analysis of the snowball earth phenomenon in simple, zonal mean energy balance models clearly reveals the physics of the snowball instability and its dependence on climate parameters. The analysis can also be used to illustrate some fundamental properties of climate feedbacks: how feedback strength changes as a function of mean climate state; how small changes in individual feedbacks can cause large changes in the system sensitivity; and last, how the strength and even the sign of the feedback is dependent on the climate variable in question.

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Nicholas Siler
,
Gerard Roe
, and
Dale Durran

Abstract

Washington State’s Cascade Mountains exhibit a strong orographic rain shadow, with much wetter western slopes than eastern slopes due to prevailing westerly flow during the winter storm season. There is significant interannual variability in the magnitude of this rain-shadow effect, however, which has important consequences for water resource management, especially where water is a critically limited resource east of the crest. Here the influence of the large-scale circulation on the Cascade rain shadow is investigated using observations from the Snowfall Telemetry (SNOTEL) monitoring network, supplemented by stream gauge measurements. Two orthogonal indices are introduced as a basis set for representing variability in wintertime Cascade precipitation. First, the total precipitation index is a measure of regionwide precipitation and explains the majority of the variance in wintertime precipitation everywhere. Second, the rain-shadow index is a measure of the east–west precipitation gradient. It explains up to 31% of the variance west and east of the crest. A significant correlation is found between the winter-mean rain shadow and ENSO, with weak (strong) rain shadows associated with El Niño (La Niña). The analysis is supported by streamflow data from eastern and western watersheds. A preliminary review of individual storms suggests that the strongest rain shadows are associated with warm-sector events, while the weakest rain shadows occur during warm-frontal passages. This is consistent with known changes in storm tracks associated with ENSO, and a variety of mechanisms likely contribute.

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Summer Rupper
,
Eric J. Steig
, and
Gerard Roe

Abstract

An ice core from Mt. Logan, Yukon, Canada, presents an opportunity to evaluate the degree to which ice core accumulation records can be interpreted as meaningful measures of interannual climate variability. Statistical analyses and comparisons with synoptic station data are used to identify the physical relationships between Mt. Logan ice core accumulation data and large-scale atmospheric circulation. These analyses demonstrate that only the winters of high accumulation years have a robust connection with atmospheric circulation. There are no consistent relationships during anomalously low and average accumulation years. The wintertime of high accumulation years is associated with an enhanced trough–ridge structure at 500 hPa and in sea level pressure over the northeast Pacific and western Canada, consistent with increased southerly flow bringing in warmer, moister air to the region. While both storm (i.e., 2–6 days) and blocking (i.e., 15–20 days) events project onto the same climate pattern, only the big storm events give rise to the dynamical moisture convergence necessary for anomalous accumulation. Taken together, these results suggest that while the Mt. Logan accumulation record is not a simple record of Pacific climate variability, anomalously high accumulation years are a reliable indicator of wintertime circulation and, in particular, of northeast Pacific storms.

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Rebecca Cleveland Stout
,
Cristian Proistosescu
, and
Gerard Roe

Abstract

Constraining unforced and forced climate variability impacts interpretations of past climate variations and predictions of future warming. However, comparing general circulation models (GCMs) and last millennium Holocene hydroclimate proxies reveals significant mismatches between simulated and reconstructed low-frequency variability at multidecadal and longer time scales. This mismatch suggests that existing simulations underestimate either external or internal drivers of climate variability. In addition, large differences arise across GCMs in both the magnitude and spatial pattern of low-frequency climate variability. Dynamical understanding of forced and unforced variability is expected to contribute to improved interpretations of paleoclimate variability. To that end, we develop a framework for fingerprinting spatiotemporal patterns of temperature variability in forced and unforced simulations. This framework relies on two frequency-dependent metrics: 1) degrees of freedom (≡N) and 2) spatial coherence. First, we use N and spatial coherence to characterize variability across a suite of both preindustrial control (unforced) and last-millennium (forced) GCM simulations. Overall, we find that, at low frequencies and when forcings are added, regional independence in the climate system decreases, reflected in fewer N and higher coherence between local and global mean surface temperature. We then present a simple three-box moist-static-energy-balance model for temperature variability, which is able to emulate key frequency-dependent behavior in the GCMs. This suggests that temperature variability in the GCM ensemble can be understood through Earth’s energy budget and downgradient energy transport, and allows us to identify sources of polar-amplified variability. Finally, we discuss insights the three-box model can provide into model-to-model GCM differences.

Significance Statement

Forced and unforced temperature variability are poorly constrained and understood, particularly that at time scales longer than a decade. Here, we identify key differences in the time scale–dependent behavior of forced and unforced temperature variability using a combination of numerical climate models and principles of downgradient energy transport. This work, and the spatiotemporal characterizations of forced and unforced temperature variability that we generate, will aid in interpretations of proxy-based paleoclimate reconstructions and improve mechanistic understanding of variability.

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Justin R. Minder
,
Dale R. Durran
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

Observations show that on a mountainside the boundary between snow and rain, the snow line, is often located at an elevation hundreds of meters below its elevation in the free air upwind. The processes responsible for this mesoscale lowering of the snow line are examined in semi-idealized simulations with a mesoscale numerical model and in simpler theoretical models. Spatial variations in latent cooling from melting precipitation, in adiabatic cooling from vertical motion, and in the melting distance of frozen hydrometeors are all shown to make important contributions. The magnitude of the snow line drop, and the relative importance of the responsible processes, depends on properties of the incoming flow and terrain geometry. Results suggest that the depression of the snow line increases with increasing temperature, a relationship that, if present in nature, could act to buffer mountain hydroclimates against the impacts of climate warming. The simulated melting distance, and hence the snow line, depends substantially on the choice of microphysical parameterization, pointing to an important source of uncertainty in simulations of mountain snowfall.

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Sandra Penny
,
Gerard H. Roe
, and
David S. Battisti

Abstract

Feature-tracking techniques are employed to investigate why there is a relative minimum in storminess during winter within the Pacific storm track (the midwinter suppression). It is found that the frequency and amplitude of disturbances entering the Pacific storm track from midlatitude Asia are substantially reduced during winter relative to fall and spring and that the magnitude of this reduction is more than sufficient to account for the midwinter supression. Growth rates of individual disturbances are calculated and compared to expectations from linear theory for several regions of interest. Although there are discrepancies between linear expectations and observed growth rates over the Pacific, the growth of disturbances within the Pacific storm track cannot explain why the midwinter suppression exists. Furthermore, it is determined that the development of a wintertime reduction in storminess over midlatitude Asia is consistent with linear expectations, which predict a wintertime minimum in Eady growth rates in this region, mainly because of increased static stability. Several other mechanisms that may contribute to the initiation of the midwinter suppression over midlatitude Asia are discussed, including the interaction between upper-level waves and topography, the behavior of waves upwind of the Tibetan Plateau, and the initiation of lee cyclones.

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Kyle C. Armour
,
Cecilia M. Bitz
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

The sensitivity of global climate with respect to forcing is generally described in terms of the global climate feedback—the global radiative response per degree of global annual mean surface temperature change. While the global climate feedback is often assumed to be constant, its value—diagnosed from global climate models—shows substantial time variation under transient warming. Here a reformulation of the global climate feedback in terms of its contributions from regional climate feedbacks is proposed, providing a clear physical insight into this behavior. Using (i) a state-of-the-art global climate model and (ii) a low-order energy balance model, it is shown that the global climate feedback is fundamentally linked to the geographic pattern of regional climate feedbacks and the geographic pattern of surface warming at any given time. Time variation of the global climate feedback arises naturally when the pattern of surface warming evolves, actuating feedbacks of different strengths in different regions. This result has substantial implications for the ability to constrain future climate changes from observations of past and present climate states. The regional climate feedbacks formulation also reveals fundamental biases in a widely used method for diagnosing climate sensitivity, feedbacks, and radiative forcing—the regression of the global top-of-atmosphere radiation flux on global surface temperature. Further, it suggests a clear mechanism for the “efficacies” of both ocean heat uptake and radiative forcing.

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Sandra M. Penny
,
David S. Battisti
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

This paper examines how variations in two mechanisms, upstream seeding and jet-core strength, relate to storminess within the cold season (October–April) Pacific storm track. It is found that about 17% of observed storminess covaries with the strength of the upstream wave source, and the relationship is robust throughout the cold season and for both the Pacific and Atlantic basins. Further analyses of the intraseasonal variability in the strength and structure of the wintertime [December–February (DJF)] Pacific jet stream draw upon both Eulerian-variance and feature-tracking statistics to diagnose why winter months with a strong-core jet stream have weaker storminess than those with a weak-core jet stream. Contrary to expectations, it is shown that the basic spatial patterns actually conform to a simple linear picture: regions with a weaker jet have weaker storminess. The overall decrease in storminess is most strongly linked to the weaker amplitude of individual storms in strong-core months. Previously proposed mechanisms are evaluated in the context of these new results. Last, this analysis provides further evidence that the midwinter suppression in storminess over the North Pacific Ocean is primarily due to a notable lack of storminess upstream of the Pacific storm track in the heart of winter.

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