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  • Author or Editor: MICHAEL L. KAPLAN x
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S. Jeffrey Underwood, Michael L. Kaplan, and K. C. King

Abstract

Pacific-originating storms that produce heavy leeside liquid precipitation in the Sierra Nevada are rare compared to those that generate windward slope rainfall. However, these leeside precipitation events have a profound effect on the flood hydrology of leeside basins in the Sierra Nevada. This study identified 12 storms that affected the Truckee River basin in northeastern Nevada. The storms produced both moderate and extreme flooding in this leeside basin. A synoptic-scale analysis of conditions leading to leeside storms was produced using a compositing procedure. Composites for multiple pressure levels and multiple parameters were produced for class 1 storms—those storms producing moderate flood flow in the Truckee River basin—and class 2 storms—those producing extreme flooding [>10 000 cubic feet per second (cfs), or 283 m3 s−1] in this basin. The analysis confirms that the two flood populations are in fact generated by Pacific-originating storms with observably different synoptic-scale circulations. The class 2 storms are moister through a great depth in the troposphere (saturated to 750 hPa), and they occur coincident with warmer conditions in the lower and midtroposphere. Class 2 events exhibited more favorable upper-level jet streak structures in the eastern Pacific and over western North America. Both classes of leeside storms were shown to differ substantially from Pacific-originating storms that exclusively affect the windward slope of the Sierra and the coastal mountain ranges of California (California storms). The leeside storms were much warmer than California storms through much of the lower and midtroposphere, and the onshore flow was predominantly from the west-southwest in leeside storms compared to southerly flow in California storms. The findings suggest the existence of a midlevel atmospheric river delivering moisture to leeside basins of the Sierra Nevada.

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Michael L. Kaplan, Ramesh K. Vellore, Phillip J. Marzette, and John M. Lewis

Abstract

This study focuses on the meso-α- and meso-β-scale manifestations of the latent-heat-induced reduction of windward-side blocking to two flood-producing precipitation events on the leeside of the Sierra Nevada. Two simulations were performed—one employing full microphysics [control (CTRL)] and a second in which the latent heating terms are turned off in the microphysics [no latent heating (NLH)]. The differences between the CTRL and NLH are consistent with upstream latent heating—the moist, divergent, and ascending flow dominates the leeside of the mountain range in the CTRL producing copious spillover precipitation while dry high-momentum/downslope-descending flow dominates the NLH simulation on the leeside. A comprehensive sequence of events for spillover precipitation is formulated as follows: 1) Ascent within the exit region of a polar jet streak develops in response to velocity divergence aloft. 2) This ascent phases with ascent from the windward-side flow to create a mesoscale region of heavy upslope precipitation. 3) The latent heat release from the upslope precipitation reduces the upstream static stability and blocking. 4) A mesoscale ridge in the thickness field builds in the upper troposphere and induces subgeostrophic flow in the jet’s exit region above the mountain range. 5) Adjustments to this ridge result in a cross-mountain midlevel jet that facilitates a river of midlevel moisture advected over to the leeside. 6) Stretching of moist isentropic surfaces in proximity to the plume of moisture fluxes causes destabilization on the leeside and formation of a leeside mesolow. 7) Boundary layer air accelerates into the leeside mesolow to form a mountain-parallel low-level flow.

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Tracy M. Backes, Michael L. Kaplan, Rina Schumer, and John F. Mejia

Abstract

This study presents the climatology of the vertical structure of water vapor flux above the Sierra Nevada during significant cool season (November–April) precipitation events. Atmospheric river (AR) and non-AR events are analyzed to better understand the effect of this structure on precipitation patterns. Daily measurements of cool season precipitation at seven weather stations around the Tahoe basin from 1974 to 2012 and NCEP/CPC gridded daily precipitation analysis along the Sierra crest for the period 1948–2012 are examined. NCEP–NCAR reanalysis and soundings from Oakland are used to look at upper atmospheric conditions, including the presence of vapor transport by low- and midlevel jets on storm days as well as upstream static stability in relation to significant precipitation events. Key findings are as follows: 1) ARs play a disproportionately large role in generating Tahoe basin precipitation during the cool season; 2) strong midlevel vapor transport needs to occur in tandem with low-level transport to achieve the most extreme 2-day precipitation in the Tahoe basin; 3) when low- to midlevel vapor transport is present on days with a defined AR, the local maximum in 2-day precipitation intensity decreases with distance from the Sierra crest, and on non-AR days, the relative increase in 2-day precipitation intensity due to low- and midlevel vapor transport does not vary based on distance from the Sierra crest; 4) AR and non-AR moisture fluxes are significantly modified by upstream static stability; and 5) understanding the impacts of ARs and their lower- and midlevel moisture flux structure are crucial components of the hydrometeorology in this region.

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Benjamin J. Hatchett, Susan Burak, Jonathan J. Rutz, Nina S. Oakley, Edward H. Bair, and Michael L. Kaplan

Abstract

The occurrence of atmospheric rivers (ARs) in association with avalanche fatalities is evaluated in the conterminous western United States between 1998 and 2014 using archived avalanche reports, atmospheric reanalysis products, an existing AR catalog, and weather station observations. AR conditions were present during or preceding 105 unique avalanche incidents resulting in 123 fatalities, thus comprising 31% of western U.S. avalanche fatalities. Coastal snow avalanche climates had the highest percentage of avalanche fatalities coinciding with AR conditions (31%–65%), followed by intermountain (25%–46%) and continental snow avalanche climates (<25%). Ratios of avalanche deaths during AR conditions to total AR days increased with distance from the coast. Frequent heavy to extreme precipitation (85th–99th percentile) during ARs favored critical snowpack loading rates with mean snow water equivalent increases of 46 mm. Results demonstrate that there exists regional consistency between snow avalanche climates, derived AR contributions to cool season precipitation, and percentages of avalanche fatalities during ARs. The intensity of water vapor transport and topographic corridors favoring inland water vapor transport may be used to help identify periods of increased avalanche hazard in intermountain and continental snow avalanche climates prior to AR landfall. Several recently developed AR forecast tools applicable to avalanche forecasting are highlighted.

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Michael L. Kaplan, Christopher S. Adaniya, Phillip J. Marzette, K. C. King, S. Jeffrey Underwood, and John M. Lewis

Abstract

The synoptic structure of two case studies of heavy “spillover” or leeside precipitation—1–2 January 1997 and 30–31 December 2005—that resulted in Truckee River flooding are analyzed over the North Pacific beginning approximately 7 days prior to the events. Several sequential cyclone-scale systems are tracked across the North Pacific, culminating in the strengthening and elongation of a polar jet stream’s deep exit region over northern California and Nevada. These extratropical cyclones separate extremely cold air from Siberia from an active intertropical convergence zone with broad mesoscale convective systems and tropical cyclones. The development of moisture surges resulting in leeside flooding precipitation over the Sierra Nevada is coupled to adjustments within the last wave in the sequence of cyclone waves. Stage I of the process occurs as the final wave moves across the Pacific and its polar jet streak becomes very long, thus traversing much of the eastern Pacific. Stage II involves the development of a low-level return branch circulation [low-level jet (LLJ)] within the exit region of the final cyclone scale wave. Stage III is associated with the low-level jet’s convergence under the upper-level divergence within the left exit region, which results in upward vertical motions, dynamic destabilization, and the development of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). Stage IV is forced by the latent heating and subsynoptic-scale ridging caused by each MCS, which results in a region of diabatic isallobaric accelerations downstream from the MCS-induced mesoridge. During stage IV the convectively induced accelerating flow, well to the southeast of the upper-level jet core, organizes a midlevel jet and plume of moisture or midlevel atmospheric river, which is above and frequently out of phase with (e.g., southeast of) the low-level atmospheric river described in ahead of the surface cold front. Stage V occurs as the final sequential midlevel river arrives over the Sierra Nevada. It phases with the low-level river, allowing upslope and midlevel moisture advection, thus creating a highly concentrated moist plume extending from near 700 to nearly 500 hPa, which subsequently advects moisture over the terrain.

When simulations are performed without upstream convective heating, the horizontal moisture fluxes over the Sierra Nevada are reduced by ∼30%, indicating the importance of convection in organizing the midlevel atmospheric rivers. The convective heating acts to accelerate the midlevel jet flow and create the secondary atmospheric river between ∼500 and 700 hPa near the 305-K isentropic surface. This midlevel moisture surge slopes forward with height and transports warm moist air over the Sierra Nevada to typically rain shadowed regions on the lee side of the range. Both observationally generated and model-generated back trajectories confirm the importance of this convectively forced rapid lifting process over the North Pacific west of the California coast ∼12 h and ∼1200 km upstream prior to heavy leeside spillover precipitation over the Sierra Nevada.

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