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Larry W. O’Neill
Tracy Haack
Dudley B. Chelton
, and
Eric Skyllingstad


The distribution of surface divergence in the northwest Atlantic is investigated using 10 years of satellite wind observations from QuikSCAT and a 1-yr simulation from the COAMPS atmospheric model. A band of time-mean surface convergence overlies the Gulf Stream [called here the Gulf Stream convergence zone (GSCZ)] and has been attributed previously to a local boundary layer response to Gulf Stream SST gradients. However, this analysis shows that the GSCZ results mainly from the aggregate impacts of strong convergence anomalies associated with storms propagating along the storm track, which approximately overlies the Gulf Stream. Storm surface convergence anomalies are one to two orders of magnitude greater than the time-mean convergence and produce a highly asymmetric divergence distribution skewed toward convergent winds. The sensitivity of the sign and magnitude of the time-mean divergence to extreme weather events is demonstrated through analysis using an extreme-value filter, conditional sampling based on rain occurrence, and comparison to its median and mode. Vertical velocity and surface pressure are likewise affected by strong storms, which are characterized by upward velocity and low surface pressure. Storms are thus an important process in shaping the mean state of the atmosphere in the northwest Atlantic. These results are difficult to reconcile with the prevailing view that SST “anchors” surface convergence, upward vertical velocity, and increased rain over the Gulf Stream through a local boundary layer adjustment mechanism.

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