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  • Author or Editor: Ernesto H. Berbery x
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Viviane B. S. Silva and Ernesto H. Berbery


The circulation features associated with intense precipitation events over the La Plata Basin (LPB) during the austral summers of 2001/02 and 2002/03 are investigated using the Eta Model runs generated at the University of Maryland. Based on the main mode of variability over LPB, two regions were selected: (i) the region of Brazil that is at the core of the South American summer monsoon system (SAMS) and (ii) the central region of LPB in southeastern South America (SESA). First, a comparison between the 24-h total precipitation in the Eta Model and the 24-h observed precipitation was made. Results show that the Eta Model captures well the temporal variability of precipitation events in both regions, although a positive bias is noticed over SAMS. Likewise, the model reproduces the distribution of precipitation rate over SESA, but not over SAMS. Nevertheless, the distribution of the moisture flux convergence intensity, which represents the dynamical forcing, is closer in shape to the observed precipitation distribution, suggesting that the model can be a useful tool in identifying the forcing for heavy precipitation events over both regions.

Composites of atmospheric and surface variables were constructed for intense precipitation events during austral summer over both regions. Intense rainfall over the central La Plata Basin (SESA) is linked to an amplified upper-tropospheric midlatitude wave pattern in which rainfall occurs just east of an enhanced cyclonic circulation. Accompanying this circulation pattern, an enhanced low-level jet (LLJ) transports warm, moist air from the Amazon toward the region, contributing to an increase in the thermal contrast over SESA. The combined patterns of thermal and dynamical variables suggest that large-scale systems, like frontal systems, are important in producing intense rainfall events. The SAMS region events have a similar upper-level structure as in SESA, but they are longer lived. In this case, the moisture fluxes are determined by an eastward shift of the LLJ, but also directly from the Amazon Basin to the north. As expected, precipitation events produce large increases of simulated runoff. The largest impact is on the SESA region, affecting the streamflow of the Paraná, Paraguay, and Uruguay, the three main rivers of the LPB.

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Yan Luo, Ernesto H. Berbery, and Kenneth E. Mitchell


The surface hydrology of the United States’ western basins is investigated using the National Centers for Environmental Prediction operational Eta Model forecasts. During recent years the model has been subject to changes and upgrades that positively affected its performance. These effects on the surface hydrologic cycle are discussed by analyzing the period June 1995–May 2003. Prior to the model assessment, three gauge-based precipitation analyses that are potential sources of model validation are appraised. A fairly large disparity between the gridded precipitation analyses is found in the long-term area averages over the Columbia basin (∼23% difference) and over the Colorado basin (∼12% difference). These discrepancies are due to the type of analysis scheme employed and whether an orographic correction was applied.

The basin-averaged Eta Model precipitation forecasts correlate well with the observations at monthly time scales and, after 1999, show a small bias. Over the Columbia basin, the model precipitation bias is typically positive. This bias is significantly smaller with respect to orographically corrected precipitation analyses, indicating that the model’s large-scale precipitation processes respond reasonably well to orographic effects, though manifesting a higher bias during the cool season. Over the Colorado basin, the model precipitation bias is typically negative, and notably more so with respect to 1) the orographically corrected precipitation analyses and 2) the warm season, indicating shortfalls in the convection scheme over arid high mountains.

The mean fields of the hydrological variables in the Eta Model are in qualitative agreement with those from the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) macroscale hydrologic model at regional-to-large scales. As expected, the largest differences are found near mountains and the western coastline. While the mean fields of precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and normalized soil moisture are in general agreement, important differences arise in their mean annual cycle over the two basins: snowmelt in the Eta Model precedes that of VIC by 2 months, and this phase shift is also reflected in the other variables. In the last 3–4 yr of the study period, notable improvements are evident in the quality of the model’s precipitation forecast and in the reduction of the residual term of the surface water balance, suggesting that at least similar (or better) quality will be found in studies based on NCEP’s recently completed Eta Model–based North American regional reanalysis.

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Yan Luo, Ernesto H. Berbery, Kenneth E. Mitchell, and Alan K. Betts


This study examines the recently released National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) products over diverse climate regimes to determine the regional relationships between soil moisture and near-surface atmospheric variables. NARR assimilates observed precipitation, as well as near-surface observations of humidity and wind, while seeking a balance of the surface water and energy budgets with a modern land surface model. The results of this study indicate that for most basins (of approximate size of 0.5–1.0 × 106 km2) the NARR surface water budgets have relatively small residuals (about 0.2 mm day−1), and slightly larger residuals (about 0.4 mm day−1) for basins with complex terrain like those in the western United States.

Given that the NARR is an assimilation system (especially one that assimilates observed precipitation), the NARR does not include feedbacks between soil moisture and precipitation. Nonetheless, as a diagnostic tool anchored to observations, the NARR does show that the extent of positive correlation between anomalies of soil moisture and anomalies of precipitation in a given region depends on that region’s dryness. The existence of correlations among all variables is a necessary—but not sufficient—condition for land–atmosphere feedbacks to exist, as a region with no correlations would not be expected to have feedbacks. Likewise, a high degree of persistence of soil moisture anomalies in a given basin does not by itself guarantee a positive correlation between anomalies of soil moisture and precipitation.

Land surface–atmosphere relationships at monthly time scales are identified by examining the associations between soil moisture and surface and boundary layer variables. Low soil moisture is consistently associated with increased net shortwave radiation and increased outgoing longwave radiation through the effects of less cloud cover and lower atmospheric humidity. No systematic association is revealed between soil moisture and total net surface radiation, as this relation varies substantially between different basins. Low soil moisture is positively correlated with increased sensible heat and lower latent heat (reflected in a smaller evaporative fraction), decreased low-cloud cover, and higher lifting condensation level. The relation between soil moisture anomalies and precipitation anomalies is found to be quite variable between the basins, depending on whether availability of surface water exceeds the available energy for evaporation, or vice versa. Wetter basins, like the Columbia and Ohio, display weak or no correlations between soil moisture anomalies and precipitation anomalies. On the other hand, transitional regions between wet and dry regions, like the central Great Plains, manifest a positive correlation between soil moisture anomalies and precipitation anomalies. These results further the understanding of previous predictability studies (in coupled land–atmosphere prediction models), which indicates that in order for precipitation anomalies to emerge in response to soil moisture anomalies in a given region, it is necessary that the region’s seasonal climate be neither too dry nor too wet.

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