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Richard Grotjahn and Rui Zhang


How does extreme cold air reach the California Central Valley (CCV) and most of the U.S. west coast? This question is answered using composite patterns for the 10 coldest cold air outbreaks (CAOs) to reach the CCV during 1979–2013. While unusually cold air over California occurs in all events by design, how it arrives there is complicated and varies. The only other feature present in all events for several days prior to CAO onset is unusually strong surface high pressure in and south of the Gulf of Alaska. This high has low-level cold air on its west side and a deep layer of cold air moving southward on its east side. Cold air aloft flows parallel to the North American west coast and sinks as it approaches the CCV. Farther west, warm advection builds a ridge aloft. The large-scale meteorological pattern (LSMP) is equivalent barotropic. The LSMP’s ridge over Alaska, trough near California, and ridge over the southeastern United States appear in all cases by onset and resemble the Pacific–North American teleconnection pattern. Cross sections show cold air flowing from the continental interior consistent with a strong pressure gradient created by extreme cold in the continental interior. Where and when the interior cold and surface flow occurs varies between events. A geopotential height trough associated with that cold air aloft passes over the CCV before onset fostering sinking behind that is reinforced by the cold air advection below. Although sinking, as a locally defined anomaly, the cold intensifies as it migrates from the polar region to the climatologically warmer CCV.

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Leif M. Swenson and Richard Grotjahn


Extreme precipitation events have major societal impacts. These events are rare and can have small spatial scale, making statistical analysis difficult; both factors are mitigated by combining events over a region. A methodology is presented to objectively define “coherent” regions wherein data points have matching annual cycles. Regions are found by training self-organizing maps (SOMs) on the annual cycle of precipitation for each grid point across the contiguous United States (CONUS). Using the annual cycle for our intended application minimizes problems caused by consecutive dry periods and localized extreme events. Multiple criteria are applied to identify useful numbers of regions for our future application. Criteria assess these properties for each region: having many more events than experienced by a single grid point, good connectedness and compactness, and robustness to changing the number of regions. Our methodology is applicable across datasets and is tested here on both reanalysis and gridded observational data. Precipitation regions obtained align with large-scale geographical features and are readily interpretable. Useful numbers of regions balance two conflicting preferences: larger regions contain more events and thereby have more robust statistics, but more compact regions allow weather patterns associated with extreme events to be aggregated with confidence. For 6-h precipitation, 12–15 regions over the CONUS optimize our metrics. The regions obtained are compared against two existing region archetypes. For example, a popular set of regions, based on nine groups of states, has less coherent regions than defining the same number of regions with our SOM methodology.

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Yun-Young Lee and Richard Grotjahn


California Central Valley (CCV) heat waves are grouped into two types based on the temporal and spatial evolution of the large-scale meteorological patterns (LSMPs) prior to onset. The k-means clustering of key features in the anomalous temperature and zonal wind identifies the two groups. Composite analyses show different evolution prior to developing a similar ridge–trough–ridge pattern spanning the North Pacific at the onset of CCV hot spells. Backward trajectories show adiabatic heating of air enhanced by anomalous sinking plus horizontal advection as the main mechanisms to create hot lower-tropospheric air just off the Northern California coast, although the paths differ between clusters.

The first cluster develops the ridge at the west coast on the day before onset, consistent with wave activity flux traveling across the North Pacific. Air parcels that arrive at the maximum temperature anomaly (just off the Northern California coast) tend to travel a long distance across the Pacific from the west. The second cluster has the ridge in place for several days prior to extreme CCV heat, but this ridge is located farther north, with heat anomaly over the northwestern United States. This ridge expands south as air parcels at midtropospheric levels descend from the northwest while lower-level parcels over land tend to bring hot air from directions ranging from the hot area to the northeast to the desert areas to the southeast. These two types reveal unexpected dynamical complexity, hint at different remote associations, and expand the assessment needed of climate models’ simulations of these heat waves.

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