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Eric DeWeaver
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

This research is an attempt to understand the dynamical mechanisms that drive the wintertime North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) on monthly and longer timescales. In an earlier work by DeWeaver and Nigam, the authors showed that momentum fluxes from stationary waves play a large role in maintaining the zonal-mean zonal wind ( u ) perturbations associated with the NAO. In this paper, a linear stationary wave model is used to show that zonal-mean flow anomalies in turn play a large role in maintaining the NAO stationary waves. A strong two-way coupling thus exists between u and the stationary waves, in which each is both a source of and a response to the other.

When forced by zonal-eddy coupling terms—terms that represent the interaction between NAO-covariant zonal-mean zonal wind anomalies and the climatological eddy flow—together with heating and transient fluxes, the model produces a realistic simulation of the observed stationary wave pattern. Zonal-eddy coupling terms make the largest contribution to the simulated stationary waves. Every feature of the stationary wave pattern is forced to some extent by zonal-eddy coupling, and the upper-level trough over Greenland is forced almost entirely by the coupling terms. The stationary waves generated by zonal-eddy coupling are well positioned to provide additional momentum to the u anomalies, demonstrating the strong positive feedback between zonal-mean and eddy flow components.

The NAO is known for its effect on tropospheric temperatures over northern Eurasia, and the model produces a realistic simulation of these temperature changes at midtropospheric levels. Zonal-eddy coupling, including the zonal advection of land–sea thermal contrasts, is partly responsible for the temperature changes. However, diabatic heating anomalies associated with the displacement of the Atlantic storm track are also influential, causing more than half of the warming over Scandinavia and most of cooling from North Africa to the Caspian Sea.

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Eric DeWeaver
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The linearity, or extent of antisymmetry, of El Niño and La Niña heating and circulation anomalies is examined for the period 1950–2000. Characteristic structures are obtained by compositing winter season anomalies for positive and negative values of the Niño-3.4 sea surface temperature (SST) index in excess of one standard deviation. Eight winters meet this condition in each ENSO phase, and the warm and cold years are equitably distributed relative to the 1976/77 climate transition.

ENSO SSTs have a direct effect on the large-scale atmospheric circulation through their impact on diabatic heating and subsequent upper-level divergence over the equatorial Pacific. These fields show a significant westward displacement for the La Niña composite compared to the El Niño composite, as expected from the SST threshold condition for convection. But despite the westward shift in convection, the 200-mb height composites are almost antisymmetric over the Pacific, with only a small (∼10°) westward shift for the extratropical La Niña pattern. The upper-level height response in the Tropics, including the position of the El Niño anticyclones, is found to be even more antisymmetric than the extratropical response. The responses are less antisymmetric over eastern North America and the Atlantic.

These results are broadly consistent with idealized experiments in which the midlatitude circulation response to equatorial heating is insensitive to shifts in the longitude of the heating. However, the finding of antisymmetry in the upper-level Pacific height responses to warm and cold ENSO events is in disagreement with the observational composites of Hoerling et al., which show a large shift between El Niño and La Niña height patterns over the North Pacific. In their composites, the La Niña response resembles the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern, a result not in evidence here. This difference can be understood as a consequence of decadal variability, particularly the 1976/77 climate transition.

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Massimo Bollasina
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The Thar Desert between northwestern India and Pakistan is the most densely populated desert region in the world, and the vast surrounding areas are affected by rapid soil degradation and vegetation loss. The impact of an expanded desert (implemented by changing vegetation type and related greenness fraction, albedo, surface roughness length, emissivity, among others) on the South Asian summer monsoon hydroclimate is investigated by means of 7-month, 4-member ensemble sensitivity experiments with the Weather Research and Forecasting model.

It is found that extended desertification significantly affects the monsoon at local and large scales. Locally, the atmospheric water cycle weakens because precipitation, evaporation, and atmospheric moisture convergence all decrease; soil moisture and runoff reduce too. Air temperature cools because of an increase in albedo (the desert makes the area brighter) and a reduction of surface turbulent fluxes; the cooling is partially offset by adiabatic descent, generated to maintain thermodynamic balance and originating at the northern flank of the low-level anticyclone forced by desert subsidence. Regionally, an anomalous northwesterly flow over the Indo-Gangetic Plain weakens the monsoon circulation over northeastern India, causing precipitation to decrease and the formation of an anomalous anticyclone in the region. As a result, the middle troposphere cools because of a decrease in latent heat release, but the ground heats up because of a reduction in cloudiness. At larger scale, the interaction between the anomalous circulation and the mountains leads to an increase in precipitation over the eastern Himalayas and Indochina.

The findings of this study reveal that the expansion of the Thar Desert can lead to a pronounced and large-scale impact on summer monsoon hydroclimate, with a potential to redistribute precious water over South Asia.

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Yongjing Zhao
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The claim for a zonal-dipole structure in interannual variations of the tropical Indian Ocean (IO) SSTs—the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD)—is reexamined after accounting for El Niño–Southern Oscillation’s (ENSO) influence. The authors seek an a priori accounting of ENSO’s seasonally stratified influence on IO SSTs and evaluate the basis of the related dipole mode index, instead of seeking a posteriori adjustments to this index, as common.

Scant observational evidence is found for zonal-dipole SST variations after removal of ENSO’s influence from IO SSTs: The IOD poles are essentially uncorrelated in the ENSO-filtered SSTs in both recent (1958–98) and century-long (1900–2007) periods, leading to the breakdown of zonal-dipole structure in surface temperature variability; this finding does not depend on the subtleties in estimation of ENSO’s influence. Deconstruction of the fall 1994 and 1997 SST anomalies led to their reclassification, with a weak IOD in 1994 and none in 1997.

Regressions of the eastern IOD pole on upper-ocean heat content, however, do exhibit a zonal-dipole structure but with the western pole in the central-equatorial IO, suggesting that internally generated basin variability can have zonal-dipole structure at the subsurface.

The IO SST variability was analyzed using the extended-EOF technique, after removing the influence of Pacific SSTs; the technique targets spatial and temporal recurrence and extracts modes (rather than patterns) of variability. This spatiotemporal analysis also does not support the existence of zonal-dipole variability at the surface. However, the analysis did yield a dipole-like structure in the meridional direction in boreal fall/winter, when it resembles the subtropical IOD pattern (but not the evolution time scale).

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Stephen Baxter
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The 2013/14 boreal winter (December 2013–February 2014) brought extended periods of anomalously cold weather to central and eastern North America. The authors show that a leading pattern of extratropical variability, whose sea level pressure footprint is the North Pacific Oscillation (NPO) and circulation footprint the West Pacific (WP) teleconnection—together, the NPO–WP—exhibited extreme and persistent amplitude in this winter. Reconstruction of the 850-hPa temperature, 200-hPa geopotential height, and precipitation reveals that the NPO–WP was the leading contributor to the winter climate anomaly over large swaths of North America. This analysis, furthermore, indicates that NPO–WP variability explains the most variance of monthly winter temperature over central-eastern North America since, at least, 1979. Analysis of the NPO–WP related thermal advection provides physical insight on the generation of the cold temperature anomalies over North America. Although NPO–WP’s origin and development remain to be elucidated, its concurrent links to tropical SSTs are tenuous. These findings suggest that notable winter climate anomalies in the Pacific–North American sector need not originate, directly, from the tropics. More broadly, the attribution of the severe 2013/14 winter to the flexing of an extratropical variability pattern is cautionary given the propensity to implicate the tropics, following several decades of focus on El Niño–Southern Oscillation and its regional and far-field impacts.

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Stephen Baxter
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The Pacific–North American (PNA) teleconnection is a major mode of Northern Hemisphere wintertime climate variability, with well-known impacts on North American temperature and precipitation. To assess whether the PNA teleconnection has extended predictability, comprehensive data analysis is conducted to elucidate PNA evolution, with an emphasis on patterns of PNA development and decay. These patterns are identified using extended empirical orthogonal function (EEOF) and linear regression analyses on pentad-resolution atmospheric circulation data from the new Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR). Additionally, dynamical links between the PNA and another important mode of wintertime variability, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), are analyzed both in the presence and absence of notable tropical convections, for example, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), which is known to be influential on both. The relationship is analyzed using EEOF and regression techniques.

It is shown that the PNA structure is similar in both space and time when the MJO is linearly removed from the dataset. Furthermore, there is a small but significant lag between the NAO and PNA, with the NAO leading a PNA of opposite phase on time scales of one to three pentads. It is suggested from barotropic vorticity analysis that this relationship may result in part from excitation of Rossby waves by the NAO in the Asian waveguide.

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Eric DeWeaver
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

Seasonally averaged 200-mb circulations for recent winters (1987/88 and 1988/89) that represent opposite phases of El Niño and a zonal-mean zonal flow index cycle are diagnosed using data assimilated by the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) and operational analyses of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). The comparison is undertaken to determine whether there are significant differences in the 200-mb vorticity dynamics implied by the mean meridional circulations in the two datasets and whether these differences can be related to the Incremental Analysis Update (IAU) method used in the GEOS assimilation.

The two datasets show a high degree of similarity in their depictions of the large-scale rotational flow, but there are substantial differences in the associated divergent circulations. For the zonal-mean flow, the zonal winds are substantially the same, but the meridional wind in the Tropics and subtropics is considerably weaker in the GEOS assimilation than its counterparts in both the ECMWF data and the GEOS analyses used to produce the assimilation.

The authors examine the assimilation of the Hadley circulation using a zonally symmetric f-plane model. For this model, the IAU method easily assimilates the rotational flow but fails to assimilate the divergent circulation. This deficiency of the IAU method may explain the weakness of the Hadley cell in the GEOS assimilation, at least in relation to the GEOS analysis.

For this simple model, an alternative assimilation method, based on constraints imposed by the analyzed potential vorticity and mean meridional circulation fields, is proposed that simultaneously assimilates both rotational and divergent flow components.

Barotropic modeling suggests that an accurate representation of mean meridional flow anomalies can be important for the diagnosis of both zonal-mean and eddy rotational flow perturbations, particularly during extreme phases of the zonal-mean zonal flow fluctuation.

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Bin Guan
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

During the week of Christmas 2021, winter storms pummeled the Pacific Northwest and broke daily temperature and snowfall records in scores, especially west of the Cascades and notably in Oregon. With La Niña ruling the tropical Pacific, the record-setting, disruptive snowfall during Christmas week raised questions about its origin, especially as the seasonal outlook was for below-normal precipitation. We show that Pacific–North American (PNA) teleconnection—a well-documented subseasonal variability pattern during winter—reigned over the region in its negative phase; it was the strongest 7-day PNA episode in December in more than 50 years. It led to robust northwesterly onshore flow, whose interaction with the Coastal, Cascade, and Sierra ranges led to blockbuster snowfall and precipitation. Note that one seldom encounters circulation anomalies consisting of just one winter teleconnection pattern. Also worth noting is the tremendous power of subseasonal variability in recharging Western water resources in the context of the seasonal gloom from a La Niña–intensified West Coast drought.

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Bin Guan
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

A consistent analysis of natural variability and secular trend in Pacific SSTs in the twentieth century is presented. By focusing on spatial and temporal recurrence, but without imposition of periodicity constraints, this single analysis discriminates between biennial, ENSO, and decadal variabilities, leading to refined evolutionary descriptions, and between these natural variability modes and secular trend, all without advance filtering (and potential aliasing) of the SST record. SST anomalies of all four seasons are analyzed together using the extended-EOF technique.

Canonical ENSO variability is encapsulated in two modes that depict the growth (east-to-west along the equator) and decay (near-simultaneous amplitude loss across the basin) phases. Another interannual mode, energetic in recent decades, is shown linked to the west-to-east SST development seen in post–climate shift ENSOs: the noncanonical ENSO mode. The mode is closely related to Chiang and Vimont’s meridional mode, and leads to some reduction in canonical ENSO’s oscillatory tendency.

Pacific decadal variability is characterized by two modes: the Pan-Pacific mode has a horseshoe structure with the closed end skirting the North American coast, and a quiescent eastern equatorial Pacific. The mode exhibits surprising connections to the tropical/subtropical Atlantic, with correlations there resembling the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. The second decadal mode—the North Pacific mode—captures the 1976/77 climate shift and is closer to Mantua’s Pacific decadal oscillation. This analysis shows, perhaps for the first time, the striking links of the North Pacific mode to the western tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean SSTs. The physicality of both modes is assessed from correlations with the Pacific biological time series.

Finally, the secular trend is characterized: implicit accommodation of natural variability leads to a nonstationary SST trend, including midcentury cooling. The SST trend is remarkably similar to the global surface air temperature trend. Geographically, a sliver of cooling is found in the central equatorial Pacific in the midst of widespread but nonuniform warming in all basins.

An extensive suite of sensitivity tests, including counts of the number of observational analogs of the modes in test analyses, supports the robustness of this analysis.

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Renu Joseph
and
Sumant Nigam

Abstract

This study focuses on the assessment of the spatiotemporal structure of ENSO variability and its winter climate teleconnections to North America in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) simulations of twentieth-century climate. The 1950–99 period simulations of six IPCC models are analyzed in an effort to benchmark models in the simulation of this leading mode of interannual variability: the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) Coupled Model version 2.1 (CM2.1), the coupled ocean–atmosphere model of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS-EH), the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3), the NCAR Parallel Coupled Model (PCM), the Hadley Centre Coupled Atmosphere–Ocean General Circulation Model version 3 (HadCM3), and version 3.2 of the Model for Interdisciplinary Research on Climate at high resolution [MIROC3.2 (hires)].

The standard deviation of monthly SST anomalies is maximum in the Niño-3 region in all six simulations, indicating progress in the modeling of ocean–atmosphere variability. The broad success in modeling ENSO’s SST footprint—quite realistic in CCSM3—is however tempered by the difficulties in modeling ENSO evolution: for example, the biennial oscillation in CCSM3 and the lack of regular warm-to-cold phase transition in the MIROC model. The spatiotemporal structure, including seasonal phase locking, is, on the whole, well modeled by HadCM3; but there is room for improvement, notably, in modeling the SST footprint in the western Pacific.

ENSO precipitation anomalies over the tropical Pacific and links to North American winter precipitation are also realistic in the HadCM3 simulation and, to an extent, in PCM. Hydroclimate teleconnections that lean on a stationary component of the flow, such as surface air temperature links, are however not well modeled by HadCM3 since the midlatitude ridge in the ENSO response is incorrectly placed in the simulation; PCM fares better.

The analysis reveals that climate models are improving but are still unable to simulate many features of ENSO variability and its circulation and hydroclimate teleconnections to North America. Predicting regional climate variability/change remains an onerous burden on models.

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