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M. Hoerling, J. Eischeid, A. Kumar, R. Leung, A. Mariotti, K. Mo, S. Schubert, and R. Seager

Central Great Plains precipitation deficits during May–August 2012 were the most severe since at least 1895, eclipsing the Dust Bowl summers of 1934 and 1936. Drought developed suddenly in May, following near-normal precipitation during winter and early spring. Its proximate causes were a reduction in atmospheric moisture transport into the Great Plains from the Gulf of Mexico. Processes that generally provide air mass lift and condensation were mostly absent, including a lack of frontal cyclones in late spring followed by suppressed deep convection in the summer owing to large-scale subsidence and atmospheric stabilization.

Seasonal forecasts did not predict the summer 2012 central Great Plains drought development, which therefore arrived without early warning. Climate simulations and empirical analysis suggest that ocean surface temperatures together with changes in greenhouse gases did not induce a substantial reduction in sum mertime precipitation over the central Great Plains during 2012. Yet, diagnosis of the retrospective climate simulations also reveals a regime shift toward warmer and drier summertime Great Plains conditions during the recent decade, most probably due to natural decadal variability. As a consequence, the probability of the severe summer Great Plains drought occurring may have increased in the last decade compared to the 1980s and 1990s, and the so-called tail risk for severe drought may have been heightened in summer 2012. Such an extreme drought event was nonetheless still found to be a rare occurrence within the spread of 2012 climate model simulations. The implications of this study's findings for U.S. seasonal drought forecasting are discussed.

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Randall M. Dole, J. Ryan Spackman, Matthew Newman, Gilbert P. Compo, Catherine A. Smith, Leslie M. Hartten, Joseph J. Barsugli, Robert S. Webb, Martin P. Hoerling, Robert Cifelli, Klaus Wolter, Christopher D. Barnet, Maria Gehne, Ronald Gelaro, George N. Kiladis, Scott Abbott, Elena Akish, John Albers, John M. Brown, Christopher J. Cox, Lisa Darby, Gijs de Boer, Barbara DeLuisi, Juliana Dias, Jason Dunion, Jon Eischeid, Christopher Fairall, Antonia Gambacorta, Brian K. Gorton, Andrew Hoell, Janet Intrieri, Darren Jackson, Paul E. Johnston, Richard Lataitis, Kelly M. Mahoney, Katherine McCaffrey, H. Alex McColl, Michael J. Mueller, Donald Murray, Paul J. Neiman, William Otto, Ola Persson, Xiao-Wei Quan, Imtiaz Rangwala, Andrea J. Ray, David Reynolds, Emily Riley Dellaripa, Karen Rosenlof, Naoko Sakaeda, Prashant D. Sardeshmukh, Laura C. Slivinski, Lesley Smith, Amy Solomon, Dustin Swales, Stefan Tulich, Allen White, Gary Wick, Matthew G. Winterkorn, Daniel E. Wolfe, and Robert Zamora

Abstract

Forecasts by mid-2015 for a strong El Niño during winter 2015/16 presented an exceptional scientific opportunity to accelerate advances in understanding and predictions of an extreme climate event and its impacts while the event was ongoing. Seizing this opportunity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initiated an El Niño Rapid Response (ENRR), conducting the first field campaign to obtain intensive atmospheric observations over the tropical Pacific during El Niño.

The overarching ENRR goal was to determine the atmospheric response to El Niño and the implications for predicting extratropical storms and U.S. West Coast rainfall. The field campaign observations extended from the central tropical Pacific to the West Coast, with a primary focus on the initial tropical atmospheric response that links El Niño to its global impacts. NOAA deployed its Gulfstream-IV (G-IV) aircraft to obtain observations around organized tropical convection and poleward convective outflow near the heart of El Niño. Additional tropical Pacific observations were obtained by radiosondes launched from Kiritimati , Kiribati, and the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown, and in the eastern North Pacific by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Global Hawk unmanned aerial system. These observations were all transmitted in real time for use in operational prediction models. An X-band radar installed in Santa Clara, California, helped characterize precipitation distributions. This suite supported an end-to-end capability extending from tropical Pacific processes to West Coast impacts. The ENRR observations were used during the event in operational predictions. They now provide an unprecedented dataset for further research to improve understanding and predictions of El Niño and its impacts.

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