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Richard Grotjahn and Ghislain Faure


Extraordinary weather events in the Sacramento, California, region are examined using a simple compositing technique. The extraordinary events identified are uncommon and the worst of their kind, but not necessarily severe. While the criteria outlined herein are drawn from Sacramento weather station data, the identified events are extraordinary elsewhere over much, if not all, of California’s Central Valley. Several types of extraordinary events are highlighted, including the hardest freezes, heaviest prolonged rain events, longest-duration fog, and worst heat waves (onset and end) in a 21-yr period. Bootstrap resampling establishes the statistical significance of features on the composite maps. The composite maps with statistically significant features highlighted allow a forecaster to search for key features in forecast maps that coexist with or that precede an extraordinary weather event. Local- and regional-scale extraordinary events have larger-scale signatures that can be traced back in time. Many of these features are intuitive and known to local forecasters (and that provides a check upon the methodology used here). However, some features appear to be unexpected. For example, a ridge (in height and thermal fields) over the southeastern United States generally occurs prior to the worst heat waves and hardest freezes. Some features appear to exhibit the theoretical concept of downstream development. Several extraordinary weather types are preceded by a ridge either over Alaska (hardest freezes and heaviest prolonged rain) or just west of Alaska (worst heat waves). While the Alaskan ridge passes a significance test, the presence of other features (such as the southeastern ridge) determines what, if any, extraordinary event occurs near Sacramento. However, a feature that passes the significance test for the composite might not occur in every member of a given extraordinary event. The height and thermal patterns over the West Coast and North Pacific are similar for summer’s worst heat waves and winter’s longest-duration fog: both types of events are preceded by a trough in the eastern mid-Pacific.

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