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Randal D. Koster, Hailan Wang, Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, and Sarith Mahanama

Abstract

The U.S. Climate Variability and Predictability (U.S. CLIVAR) Drought Working Group (DWG) recently performed a series of experiments in which a number of AGCMs were forced with different leading patterns of global SST variability. These experiments provide a unique opportunity to examine how different SST regimes affect temperature over the continental United States. Herein, the focus is on a particular aspect of June–August (JJA) near-surface air temperature: the temperature during relatively dry years for a given SST regime. For most of the models participating in the DWG experiments, a cold Pacific produces greater warming in the central United States during relatively dry years than a warm Pacific does for the following two separate reasons: (i) the cold Pacific leads on average, across all years, to drier conditions, and (ii) the particular evaporation regime induced by the cold Pacific enhances the impact of evaporation feedback on temperature, that is, the sensitivity of temperature to within-climate variations in moisture availability. These results are supported, to a large extent, by the observational record.

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Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, Philip J. Pegion, Randal D. Koster, and Julio T. Bacmeister

Abstract

This study examines the predictability of seasonal mean Great Plains precipitation using an ensemble of century-long atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) simulations forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs). The results show that the predictability (intraensemble spread) of the precipitation response to SST forcing varies on interannual and longer time scales. In particular, this study finds that pluvial conditions are more predictable (have less intraensemble spread) than drought conditions. This rather unexpected result is examined in the context of the physical mechanisms that impact precipitation in the Great Plains. These mechanisms include El Niño–Southern Oscillation’s impact on the planetary waves and hence the Pacific storm track (primarily during the cold season), the role of Atlantic SSTs in forcing changes in the Bermuda high and low-level moisture flux into the continent (primarily during the warm season), and soil moisture feedbacks (primarily during the warm season). It is found that the changes in predictability are primarily driven by changes in the strength of the land–atmosphere coupling, such that under dry conditions a given change in soil moisture produces a larger change in evaporation and hence precipitation than the same change in soil moisture would produce under wet soil conditions. The above changes in predictability are associated with a negatively skewed distribution in the seasonal mean precipitation during the warm season—a result that is not inconsistent with the observations.

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Randal D. Koster, Siegfried D. Schubert, Anthony M. DeAngelis, Andrea M. Molod, and Sarith P. Mahanama

Abstract

Past studies have shown that accurate soil moisture initialization can contribute significant skill to near-surface air temperature (T2M) forecasts at subseasonal leads. The mechanisms by which soil moisture contributes such skill are examined here with a simple water balance–based model that captures the essence of soil moisture behavior in a state-of-the-art subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) forecasting system. The simple model successfully transforms initial soil moisture contents into average “forecast” evapotranspiration (ET) values at 16–30-day lead that agree well, during summer, with the values forecast by the full NASA GEOS S2S system, indicating that soil moisture initialization dominates over forecast meteorological conditions in determining ET fluxes at subseasonal leads. When the simple model’s ET anomalies are interpreted in terms of T2M anomalies, a similar conclusion is reached for T2M: soil moisture initialization explains much (about 50% in the eastern half of the continental United States) of the T2M anomaly values produced by the full GEOS S2S system at 16–30-day lead, and the T2M forecasts produced by the simple model capture about one-half of the skill attained by the full system. The simple model’s framework is particularly conducive to an analysis of uncertainty in forecasts. Drier soils are generally found to induce larger uncertainty in ET (and thus T2M) forecasts, a result linked to the functional form relating ET to soil moisture in the simple model and verified by an analysis of the ensemble spreads within the forecasts produced by the full GEOS S2S system.

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Man-Li C. Wu, Oreste Reale, Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

This study investigates the structure of the African easterly jet, focusing on instability processes on a seasonal and subseasonal scale, with the goal of identifying features that could provide increased predictability of Atlantic tropical cyclogenesis. The Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) is used as the main investigating tool. MERRA is compared with other reanalyses datasets from major operational centers around the world and was found to describe very effectively the circulation over the African monsoon region. In particular, a comparison with precipitation datasets from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project shows that MERRA realistically reproduces seasonal precipitation over that region. The verification of the generalized Kuo barotropic instability condition computed from seasonal means is found to have the interesting property of defining well the location where observed tropical storms are detected. This property does not appear to be an artifact of MERRA and is present also in the other adopted reanalysis datasets. Therefore, the fact that the areas where the mean flow is unstable seems to provide a more favorable environment for wave intensification, could be another factor to include—in addition to sea surface temperature, vertical shear, precipitation, the role of Saharan air, and others—among large-scale forcings affecting development and tropical cyclone frequency. In addition, two prominent modes of variability are found based on a spectral analysis that uses the Hilbert–Huang transform: a 2.5–6-day mode that corresponds well to the African easterly waves and also a 6–9-day mode that seems to be associated with tropical–extratropical interaction.

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Anthony M. DeAngelis, Hailan Wang, Randal D. Koster, Siegfried D. Schubert, Yehui Chang, and Jelena Marshak

Abstract

Rapid-onset droughts, known as flash droughts, can have devastating impacts on agriculture, water resources, and ecosystems. The ability to predict flash droughts in advance would greatly enhance our preparation for them and potentially mitigate their impacts. Here, we investigate the prediction skill of the extreme 2012 flash drought over the U.S. Great Plains at subseasonal lead times (3 weeks or more in advance) in global forecast systems participating in the Subseasonal Experiment (SubX). An additional comprehensive set of subseasonal hindcasts with NASA’s GEOS model, a SubX model with relatively high prediction skill, was performed to investigate the separate contributions of atmospheric and land initial conditions to flash drought prediction skill. The results show that the prediction skill of the SubX models is quite variable. While skillful predictions are restricted to within the first two forecast weeks in most models, skill is considerably better (3–4 weeks or more) for certain models and initialization dates. The enhanced prediction skill is found to originate from two robust sources: 1) accurate soil moisture initialization once dry soil conditions are established, and 2) the satisfactory representation of quasi-stationary cross-Pacific Rossby wave trains that lead to the rapid intensification of flash droughts. Evidence is provided that the importance of soil moisture initialization applies more generally to central U.S. summer flash droughts. Our results corroborate earlier findings that accurate soil moisture initialization is important for skillful subseasonal forecasts and highlight the need for additional research on the sources and predictability of drought-inducing quasi-stationary atmospheric circulation anomalies.

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Randal D. Koster, Thomas L. Bell, Rolf H. Reichle, Max J. Suarez, and Siegfried D. Schubert

Abstract

Model deficiencies limit a subseasonal or seasonal forecast system’s ability to produce accurate predictions. In this paper, an approach for transforming the output of a forecast system into a revised forecast is presented; it is designed to correct for some of the deficiencies in the system (particularly those associated with the spatial correlation structures of the forecasted fields) and thereby increase forecast skill. The approach, based on the joint consideration of the correlation structures present in the observational record and the inherent potential predictability of the model, is tested on a preexisting subseasonal forecast experiment. It is shown to produce modest but significant increases in the accuracy of forecasted precipitation and near-surface air temperature at monthly time scales.

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Man-Li C. Wu, Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, and Norden E. Huang

Abstract

This study examines the nature of episodes of enhanced warm-season moisture flux into the Gulf of California. Both spatial structure and primary time scales of the fluxes are examined using the 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis data for the period 1980–2001. The analysis approach consists of a compositing technique that is keyed on the low-level moisture fluxes into the Gulf of California. The results show that the fluxes have a rich spectrum of temporal variability, with periods of enhanced transport over the gulf linked to African easterly waves on subweekly (3–8 day) time scales, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) at intraseasonal time scales (20–90 day), and intermediate (10–15 day) time-scale disturbances that appear to originate primarily in the Caribbean Sea–western Atlantic Ocean.

In the case of the MJO, enhanced low-level westerlies and large-scale rising motion provide an environment that favors large-scale cyclonic development near the west coast of Central America that, over the course of about 2 weeks, expands northward along the coast eventually reaching the mouth of the Gulf of California where it acts to enhance the southerly moisture flux in that region. On a larger scale, the development includes a northward shift in the eastern Pacific ITCZ, enhanced precipitation over much of Mexico and the southwestern United States, and enhanced southerly/southeasterly fluxes from the Gulf of Mexico into Mexico and the southwestern and central United States. In the case of the easterly waves, the systems that reach Mexico appear to redevelop/reorganize on the Pacific coast and then move rapidly to the northwest to contribute to the moisture flux into the Gulf of California. The most intense fluxes into the gulf on these time scales appear to be synchronized with a midlatitude short-wave trough over the U.S. West Coast and enhanced low-level southerly fluxes over the U.S. Great Plains. The intermediate (10–15 day) time-scale systems have zonal wavelengths roughly twice that of the easterly waves, and their initiation appears to be linked to an extratropical U.S. East Coast ridge and associated northeasterly winds that extend well into the Caribbean Sea during their development phase. The short (3–8 day) and, to a lesser extent, the intermediate (10–15 day) time-scale fluxes tend to be enhanced when the convectively active phase of the MJO is situated over the Americas.

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Siegfried D. Schubert, H. Mark Helfand, Chung-Yu Wu, and Wei Min

Abstract

Subseasonal variations in warm-season (May–August) precipitation over the central and eastern United States are shown to be strongly linked to variations in the moisture entering the continent from the Gulf of Mexico within a longitudinally confined “channel” (referred to here as the Texas corridor or TC). These variations reflect the development of low-level southerly wind maxima (or jets) on a number of different timescales in association with distinct subcontinental and larger-scale phenomena. On the diurnal timescale, the TC moisture flux variations are tied to the development of the Great Plains low-level jet. The composite nighttime anomalies are characterized by a strong southerly moisture flux covering northeast Mexico and the southern Great Plains, and enhanced boundary layer convergence and precipitation over much of the upper Great Plains. The strongest jets tend to be associated with an anomalous surface low over the Great Plains, reflecting a predilection for periods when midlatitude weather systems are positioned to produce enhanced southerly flow over this region. On subsynoptic (2–4 days) timescales the TC moisture flux variations are associated with the development and evolution of a warm-season lee cyclone. These systems, which are most prevalent during the early part of the warm season (May and June), form over the central Great Plains in association with an upper-level shortwave and enhanced upper-tropospheric cross-mountain westerly flow. A low-level southerly wind maximum or jet develops underneath and perpendicular to the advancing edge of enhanced midtropospheric westerlies. The clash of anomalous southerly moisture flux and a deep intrusion of anomalous northerly low-level winds results in enhanced precipitation eventually stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes. On synoptic (4–8 days) timescales the TC moisture flux variations are associated with the propagation and intensification of a warm-season midlatitude cyclone. This system, which also occurs preferentially during May and June, develops offshore and intensifies as it crosses the Rocky Mountains and taps moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Low-level southerly wind anomalies develop parallel to the mid- and upper-level winds on the leading edge of the trough. Widespread precipitation anomalies move with the propagating system with reduced rainfall occurring over the anomalous surface high, and enhanced rainfall occurring over the anomalous surface low. On still longer timescales (8–16 days) the variations in the TC moisture transport are tied to slow eastward-moving systems. The evolution and structure of the mid- and low-level winds are similar to those of the synoptic-scale system with, however, a somewhat larger zonal scale and spatially more diffuse southerly moisture flux and precipitation anomalies.

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Xianan Jiang, Duane E. Waliser, Matthew C. Wheeler, Charles Jones, Myong-In Lee, and Siegfried D. Schubert

Abstract

Motivated by an attempt to augment dynamical models in predicting the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and to provide a realistic benchmark to those models, the predictive skill of a multivariate lag-regression statistical model has been comprehensively explored in the present study. The predictors of the benchmark model are the projection time series of the leading pair of EOFs of the combined fields of equatorially averaged outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) and zonal winds at 850 and 200 hPa, derived using the approach of Wheeler and Hendon. These multivariate EOFs serve as an effective filter for the MJO without the need for bandpass filtering, making the statistical forecast scheme feasible for the real-time use. Another advantage of this empirical approach lies in the consideration of the seasonal dependence of the regression parameters, making it applicable for forecasts all year-round. The forecast model exhibits useful extended-range skill for a real-time MJO forecast. Predictions with a correlation skill of greater than 0.3 (0.5) between predicted and observed unfiltered (EOF filtered) fields still can be detected over some regions at a lead time of 15 days, especially for boreal winter forecasts. This predictive skill is increased significantly when there are strong MJO signals at the initial forecast time. The analysis also shows that predictive skill for the upper-tropospheric winds is relatively higher than for the low-level winds and convection signals. Finally, the capability of this empirical model in predicting the MJO is further demonstrated by a case study of a real-time “hindcast” during the 2003/04 winter. Predictive skill demonstrated in this study provides an estimate of the predictability of the MJO and a benchmark for the dynamical extended-range models.

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Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, Philip J. Pegion, Michael A. Kistler, and Arun Kumar

Abstract

This study examines the predictability of seasonal means during boreal summer. The results are based on ensembles of June–July–August (JJA) simulations (started in mid-May) carried out with the NASA Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP-1) atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and sea ice for the years 1980–99. It is found that the predictability of the JJA extratropical height field is primarily in the zonal-mean component of the response to the SST anomalies. This contrasts with the cold season (January–February–March) when the predictability of seasonal means in the boreal extratropics is primarily in the wave component of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) response.

Two patterns dominate the interannual variability of the ensemble mean JJA zonal-mean height field. One has maximum variance in the tropical/subtropical upper troposphere, while the other has substantial variance in the midlatitudes of both hemispheres. Both are symmetric with respect to the equator. A regression analysis shows that the tropical/subtropical pattern is associated with SST anomalies in the far eastern tropical Pacific and the Indian Ocean, while the midlatitude pattern is associated with SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific just east of the date line. The two leading zonal height patterns are reproduced in model runs forced with the two leading JJA SST patterns of variability. A comparison with observations shows a signature of the midlatitude pattern that is consistent with the occurrence of dry and wet summers over the United States. It is hypothesized that both patterns, while imposing only weak constraints on extratropical warm season continental-scale climates, may play a role in the predilection for drought or pluvial conditions.

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