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Gabriel Wolf
and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

It has been suggested that upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets propagating along the midlatitude waveguide may play a role for triggering severe weather. This motivates the search for robust methods to detect and track Rossby wave packets and to diagnose their properties. In the framework of several observed cases, this paper compares different methods that have been proposed for these tasks, with an emphasis on horizontal propagation and on a particular formulation of a wave activity flux previously suggested by Takaya and Nakamura. The utility of this flux is compromised by the semigeostrophic nature of upper-tropospheric Rossby waves, but this problem can partly be overcome by a semigeostrophic coordinate transformation. The wave activity flux allows one to obtain information from a single snapshot about the meridional propagation, in particular propagation from or into polar and subtropical latitudes, as well as about the onset of wave breaking. This helps to clarify the dynamics of individual wave packets in cases where other, more conventional methods provide ambiguous or even misleading information. In some cases, the “true dynamics” of the Rossby wave packet turns out to be more complex than apparent from the more conventional diagnostics, and this may have important implications for the predictability of the wave packet.

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