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Grant Branstator

Abstract

Monthly and seasonally averaged upper-tropospheric Northern Hemisphere winter fields are examined to determine whether the waveguiding effect of the time-averaged tropospheric jets on low-frequency disturbances that is predicted by theory does affect the behavior of these disturbances. It is found that, indeed, disturbances in the vicinity of the mean jets, particularly the jet that stretches across South Asia, are fundamentally different from those that reside in regions where the mean winds have weaker meridional gradients, like the mid-Pacific. Patterns of variability in the jets tend to be smaller scale and to consist of zonally oriented chains of anomalies while variability in the mid-Pacific is composed of patterns with distinct meridional orientation. Because they are meridionally trapped and zonally elongated, patterns associated with the jet stream waveguide connect activity at points that are much farther apart than do patterns in other regions of the globe.

Within the South Asian waveguide, variability tends to be composed of a zonal wave-5 feature with no favored longitudinal phase. One phase of this pattern is special in that it covaries with distant regions in midlatitudes producing a pattern of variability that circumscribes the hemisphere. This special pattern has a noticeable zonal mean component. Furthermore, it is prominent enough that for the upper troposphere it is embedded in the leading EOF of streamfunction and is essentially the same as the leading EOF of the υ wind component. Over the North Atlantic, its structure has a great deal in common with the structure of the North Atlantic Oscillation, so that its features can make significant contributions to plots of hemispheric circulation anomalies associated with that phenomenon.

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Grant Branstator

Abstract

The midlatitude response to localized equatorial heating events that last 2 days is examined through experimentation with an atmospheric general circulation model. Such responses are argued to be important because many tropical rainfall events only last a short time and because the responses to such pulses serve as building blocks with which to study the impacts of more general heating fluctuations.

The experiments indicate that short-lived heating produces responses in midlatitudes at locations far removed from the source and these responses persist much longer than the pulses themselves. Indeed pulse forcing, which is essentially white in time, produces upper-tropospheric responses that have an e-damping time of almost a week and that are detectable for more than two weeks in the experiments. Moreover the upper-tropospheric structure of the reaction to short pulses is remarkably similar to the reaction to steady tropical heating, including having a preference for occurring at special geographical locations and being composed of recurring patterns that resemble the leading patterns of responses to steady heating. This similarity is argued to be a consequence of the responses to pulses having little or no phase propagation in the extratropics. The impact of short-lived tropical heating also produces a persistent response in midlatitude surface fields and in the statistics of synoptic eddies.

The implications these results have for subseasonal variability are discussed. These include 1) the potential for improving subseasonal prediction through improved assimilation and short-range forecasts of tropical precipitation and 2) the difficulties involved in attributing subseasonal midlatitude events to tropical heating.

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Grant Branstator
and
Frank Selten

Abstract

A 62-member ensemble of coupled general circulation model (GCM) simulations of the years 1940–2080, including the effects of projected greenhouse gas increases, is examined. The focus is on the interplay between the trend in the Northern Hemisphere December–February (DJF) mean state and the intrinsic modes of variability of the model atmosphere as given by the upper-tropospheric meridional wind. The structure of the leading modes and the trend are similar. Two commonly proposed explanations for this similarity are considered.

Several results suggest that this similarity in most respects is consistent with an explanation involving patterns that result from the model dynamics being well approximated by a linear system. Specifically, the leading intrinsic modes are similar to the leading modes of a stochastic model linearized about the mean state of the GCM atmosphere, trends in GCM tropical precipitation appear to excite the leading linear pattern, and the probability density functions (PDFs) of prominent circulation patterns are quasi-Gaussian.

There are, on the other hand, some subtle indications that an explanation for the similarity involving preferred states (which necessarily result from nonlinear influences) has some relevance. For example, though unimodal, PDFs of prominent patterns have departures from Gaussianity that are suggestive of a mixture of two Gaussian components. And there is some evidence of a shift in probability between the two components as the climate changes. Interestingly, contrary to the most prominent theory of the influence of nonlinearly produced preferred states on climate change, the centroids of the components also change as the climate changes. This modification of the system’s preferred states corresponds to a change in the structure of its dominant patterns. The change in pattern structure is reproduced by the linear stochastic model when its basic state is modified to correspond to the trend in the general circulation model’s mean atmospheric state. Thus, there is a two-way interaction between the trend and the modes of variability.

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Haiyan Teng
and
Grant Branstator

Abstract

A prominent pattern of variability of the Northern Hemisphere wintertime tropospheric planetary waves, referred to here as the Wave3 pattern, is identified from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis. It is worthy of attention because its structure is similar to the linear trend pattern as well as the leading pattern of multidecadal variability of the planetary waves during the past half century. The Wave3 pattern is defined as the second empirical orthogonal function (EOF) of detrended December–February mean 300-hPa meridional wind V 300 and denotes a zonal shift of the ridges and troughs of the climatological flow. Although its interannual variance is roughly comparable to that of EOF1 of V 300, which represents the Pacific–North America (PNA) pattern, its multidecadal variance is nearly twice as large as that of the PNA. Wave3 is not completely structurally or temporally distinct from the northern annular mode (NAM) but, for some attributes, the linkage of the observed trend to Wave3 is clearer than to NAM. The prominence of the Wave3 pattern is further supported by attributes of many climate models that participated in phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3). In particular, in the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), the Wave3 pattern is present as EOF3 of V 300 in both a fully coupled integration and a stand-alone atmospheric integration forced by climatological sea surface temperatures. Its existence in the latter experiment indicates that the pattern can be produced by atmospheric processes alone.

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Grant Branstator
and
Haiyan Teng

Abstract

Predictability properties of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) are measured and compared to those of the upper-500-m heat content in the North Atlantic based on control simulations from nine comprehensive coupled climate models. By estimating the rate at which perfect predictions from initially similar states diverge, the authors find the prediction range at which initialization loses its potential to have a positive impact on predictions. For the annual-mean AMOC, this range varies substantially from one model to another, but on average, it is about a decade. For eight of the models, this range is less than the corresponding range for heat content. For 5- and 10-yr averages, predictability is substantially greater than for annual means for both fields, but the enhancement is more for AMOC; indeed, for the averaged fields, AMOC is more predictable than heat content. Also, there are spatial patterns of AMOC that have especially high predictability. For the most predictable of these patterns, AMOC retains predictability for more than two decades in a typical model. These patterns are associated with heat content fluctuations that also have above-average predictability, which suggests that AMOC may have a positive influence on the predictability of heat content for these special structures.

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Grant Branstator
and
Haiyan Teng

Abstract

When the climate system experiences time-dependent external forcing (e.g., from increases in greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations), there are two inherent limits on the gain in skill of decadal climate predictions that can be attained from initializing with the observed ocean state. One is the classical initial-value predictability limit that is a consequence of the system being chaotic, and the other corresponds to the forecast range at which information from the initial conditions is overcome by the forced response. These limits are not caused by model errors; they correspond to limits on the range of useful forecasts that would exist even if nature behaved exactly as the model behaves. In this paper these two limits are quantified for the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), with several 40-member climate change scenario experiments. Predictability of the upper-300-m ocean temperature, on basin and global scales, is estimated by relative entropy from information theory. Despite some regional variations, overall, information from the ocean initial conditions exceeds that from the forced response for about 7 yr. After about a decade the classical initial-value predictability limit is reached, at which point the initial conditions have no remaining impact. Initial-value predictability receives a larger contribution from ensemble mean signals than from the distribution about the mean. Based on the two quantified limits, the conclusion is drawn that, to the extent that predictive skill relies solely on upper-ocean heat content, in CCSM3 decadal prediction beyond a range of about 10 yr is a boundary condition problem rather than an initial-value problem. Factors that the results of this study are sensitive and insensitive to are also discussed.

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Haiyan Teng
and
Grant Branstator

Abstract

California droughts are often caused by high-amplitude and persistent ridges near and off the west coast of North America without apparent connections with ENSO. Here with a hierarchy of climate models, it is demonstrated that extreme ridges in this region are associated with a continuum of zonal wavenumber-5 circumglobal teleconnection patterns that originate from midlatitude atmospheric internal dynamics. Although tropical diabatic heating anomalies are not essential to the formation and maintenance of these wave patterns, certain persistent heating anomalies may double the probability of ridges with amplitudes in the 90th percentile occurring on interannual time scales. Those heating anomalies can be caused by either natural variability or possibly by climate change, and they do not necessarily depend on ENSO. The extreme ridges that occurred during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 winters could be examples of ridges produced by heating anomalies that are not associated with ENSO. This mechanism could provide a source of subseasonal-to-interannual predictability beyond the predictability provided by ENSO.

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Grant Branstator
and
Sue Ellen Haupt

Abstract

A linear empirical model of barotropic atmospheric dynamics is constructed in which the streamfunction tendency field is optimally predicted using the concurrent streamfunction state as a predictor. The prediction equations are those resulting from performing a linear regression between tendency and state vectors. Based on the formal analogy between this model and the linear nondivergent barotropic vorticity equation, this empirical model is applied to problems normally addressed with a conventional model based on physical principles. It is found to qualitatively represent the horizontal dispersion of energy and to skillfully predict how a general circulation model will respond to steady tropical heat sources. Analysis of model solutions indicates that the empirical model’s dynamics include processes that are not represented by conventional nondivergent linear models. Most significantly, the influence of internally generated midlatitude divergence anomalies and of anomalous vorticity fluxes by high-frequency transients associated with low-frequency anomalies are automatically incorporated into the empirical model. The results suggest the utility of empirical models of atmospheric dynamics in situations where estimates of the response to external forcing are needed or as a standard of comparison in efforts to make models based on physical principles more complete.

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Jeffrey H. Yin
and
Grant W. Branstator

Abstract

A conceptual framework is developed for quantifying the relationship between low-frequency variability and extreme events. In this framework, variability is decomposed into low-frequency and synoptic components using complementary 10-day low-pass and high-pass filters, and a distinction is made between two ways that low-frequency variability influences extremes: the additive effect, which neglects the dependence of synoptic variability on the low-frequency state, and the multiplicative effect, which is due to the dependence of synoptic variability on the low-frequency state. The influence of various factors on the relationship between low-frequency variability and extreme events is decomposed and quantified by generating a series of simple synthetic datasets based on different assumptions about low-frequency and synoptic variability and their relationship.

These techniques are used to study the relationship between low-frequency variability and extreme westerly wind events in three datasets, an 1158-yr GCM simulation and two reanalysis datasets, with similar results for all three. Geographical variations in the low-frequency–extreme relationship are only partially explained by geographical variations in the low-frequency–synoptic variance ratio; the non-Gaussianity of low-frequency and synoptic variability and the relationship between synoptic variance and the low-frequency state are also found to be important. The simple synthetic datasets that include these factors provide good estimates of the magnitude and probability of extremes. Implications for predictability and applications to more complex low-frequency–extreme relationships are discussed.

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Kevin E. Trenberth
and
Grant W. Branstator

Abstract

Progress toward understanding the causes of and physical mechanisms involved in the 1988 North American drought is reported. An earlier study demonstrated that major sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical Pacific Ocean, in association with the 1988 La Niña, may have disrupted atmospheric heating patterns by changing the location and intensity of the intertropical convergence zone and that such heating anomalies could have initiated the circulation anomalies across North America responsible for the drought. A key issue of when the drought circulation anomalies developed and their relation to changes in tropical Pacific SSTs is examined. Although unusually dry soil moisture and heat waves persisted into August, the anomalous atmospheric conditions that brought on the drought occurred in April, May, and June of 1988. The evolution of the Pacific SSTs and tropical convection, as revealed by outgoing longwave radiation, is shown to be consistent with the development of the conditions favorable for initiating the drought circulation pattern in April through June of 1988. On the equator at 110°W, SST anomalies exceeded −2.75°C in only April, May, and June and were largest (−4.1°C) in May 1988. The issues of how the 1988 La Niña differed from those in the past and the importance of the whole SST field in determining the anomalous diabatic heating are also discussed. Diagnostic calculations of atmospheric diabatic heating confirm that atmospheric heating anomalies existed in the tropical Pacific in association with the major SST anomalies during this time. The link between the anomalous heating and the tropical SSTs supports the view that influences external to the atmosphere were important and that the drought was not generated solely by mechanisms internal to the atmosphere. The distribution of diagnosed heating anomalies over North America, together with a planetary wave model response to idealized forcing, is described to clarify the possible role of soil moisture anomalies in perpetuating the drought. It is argued that feedback-caused soil moisture anomalies may have been secondary sources for the drought circulation but could not have been the primary instigator. For the most part, other diagnosed heating anomalies during the drought are found to have little influence on the North American region. Criteria to help judge the ability of general circulation models to simulate the drought are discussed.

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