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Christopher D. McCray, John R. Gyakum, and Eyad H. Atallah

Abstract

Though prolonged freezing rain events are rare, they can result in substantial damage when they occur. While freezing rain occurs less frequently in the south-central United States than in some regions of North America, a large number of extremely long-duration events lasting at least 18 h have been observed there. We explore the key synoptic–dynamic conditions that lead to these extreme events through a comparison with less severe short-duration events. We produce synoptic–dynamic composites and 7-day backward trajectories for parcels ending in the warm and cold layers for each event category. The extremely long-duration events are preferentially associated with a deeper and more stationary 500-hPa longwave trough centered over the southwestern United States at event onset. This trough supports sustained flow of warm, moist air from within the planetary boundary layer over the Gulf of Mexico northward into the warm layer. The short-duration cases are instead characterized by a more transient upper-level trough axis centered over the south-central U.S. region at onset. Following event onset, rapid passage of the trough leads to quasigeostrophic forcing for descent and the advection of cold, dry air that erodes the warm layer and ends precipitation. While trajectories ending in the cold layer are very similar between the two categories, those ending in the warm layer have a longer history over the Gulf of Mexico in the extreme cases compared with the short-duration ones, resulting in warmer and moister onset warm layers.

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Christopher D. McCray, John R. Gyakum, and Eyad H. Atallah

Abstract

Freezing rain is an especially hazardous winter weather phenomenon that remains particularly challenging to forecast. Here, we identify the salient thermodynamic characteristics distinguishing long-duration (six or more hours) freezing rain events from short-duration (2–4 h) events in three regions of the United States and Canada from 1979 to 2016. In the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, strong surface cold-air advection is not common during freezing rain events. Colder onset temperatures at the surface and in the near-surface cold layer support longer-duration events there, allowing heating mechanisms (e.g., the release of latent heat of fusion when rain freezes at the surface) to act for longer periods before the surface reaches 0°C and precipitation transitions to rain. In the south-central United States, cold air at the surface is replenished via continuous cold-air advection, reducing the necessity of cold onset surface temperatures for event persistence. Instead, longer-duration events are associated with warmer and deeper >0°C warm layers aloft and stronger advection of warm and moist air into this layer, delaying its erosion via cooling mechanisms such as melting. Finally, in the southeastern United States, colder and especially drier onset conditions in the cold layer are associated with longer-duration events, with evaporative cooling crucial to maintaining the subfreezing surface temperatures necessary for freezing rain. Through an improved understanding of the regional conditions supporting freezing rain event persistence, we hope to provide useful information to forecasters in their attempt to predict these potentially damaging events.

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John R. Gyakum, John R. Anderson, Richard H. Grumm, and Elissa L. Gruner

Abstract

An eight year sample of cold-season (1 October through 31 March) extratropical cyclones in the, Pacific Ocean basin is used to study central pressure changes and life cycle characteristics.

We find that over 90% of the cyclones passing through the area of the Kuroshio Current intensify in this region. Corresponding percentages in excess of 60% extend from the Kuroshio, south of 45°N, eastward to 130°W. Mean 24-h central pressure falls of all cyclones exceed 9 mb through the entire basin west of 140°W in the latitude band 30° to 50°N.

A statistical analysis of 24-h central pressure changes is performed on all cyclones within our domain. A frequency distribution of 1996 cases of 24-h maximum deepening reveals statistically significant departures from a Gaussian distribution, with the coefficient of skewness substantially negative. We also find similarly significant departures from normal in a frequency distribution of all 24-h central pressure changes, in spite of the fact that this distribution would be expected to have relatively fewer nonlinear interactions of processes associated with maximum deepening. A stratification of these data into ten degree latitude bands reveals that the ocean-dominated areas south of 60°N all have significant departures from the normal distributions with significantly large negative values of skewness. The land and ice-dominated region between 60° and 70°N has a deepening rate distribution that is approximately Gaussian with coefficients of skewness and kurtosis within the confidence limits of a normal distribution. These results suggest that the underlying ocean surface may be responsible for the significant departures of the pressure change distribution from a normal distribution.

We find that explosively developing cyclones (defined as those systems whose central pressure falls at least 24 mb in 24 h at 45°N) have longer lifetimes than the more conventional lows. Approximately 74% of the explosive cyclones last for at least four days. Only 21% of the nonexplosive cases exist for as long as four days. The vast majority of rapid deepeners commence their maximum intensification within 24 h of their initial formation. Thus, a correct analysis and forecast of a newly formed cyclone appears crucial to a successful explosive cyclone simulation.

Although cyclone formation areas cover vast areas of the Pacific, especially those east of Japan, south of Alaska, and the surroundings of the Kamchatka Peninsula, explosive cyclone formation positions are almost exclusively south of 50°N, concentrated east of the Asiatic continent, and in an area between 150° and 160°W. The “bomb” maximum deepening positions are located in areas slightly to the north and east of their formation positions. Dissipation positions, while concentrated in the Gulf of Alaska, the northeast Pacific, and in an area west of Kamchatka for all systems, are almost exclusively confined to areas north of 50°N for the rapidly deepening cyclones.

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Shawn M. Milrad, John R. Gyakum, Kelly Lombardo, and Eyad H. Atallah
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John R. Gyakum, Ying-Hwa Kuo, Zitian Guo, and Yong-Run Guo

Abstract

The rapid surface cyclogenesis of March 1984 is examined from an observational and modeling perspective, in terms of both potential vorticity (PV) and traditional quasigeostraphic reasoning, during its evolution from a mesoscale cyclone to a state in which it is identifiable as a large-scale extratropical cyclone. The first stage of the cyclonic development is characterized by a surface warm anomaly forming as a consequence of surface heat fluxes. Subsequently, a lower-tropospheric PV maximum develops in association with a mesoscale pattern of rainfall in excess of 10 mm h−1. The numerical forecasts replicated the evolution of both features, though more slowly than actually occurred. This organized rainfall occurs in response to a vigorous midtropospheric cyclonic vorticity maximum. Lower-tropospheric PV generation is found to be the unique feature of the rapid mesoscale cyclogenesis that is directly related to condensation heating, with both horizontal and vertical gradients of heating contributing. The former component of PV generation occurs only during the first hours of incipient cyclogenesis and is uniquely related to mesoscale precipitation pattern in a region of strong baroclinity and vertical wind shear.

The second stage of development occurs when high-PV stratospheric air arrives over the cyclone center, and induces further rapid spinup. The resulting rapid spinup is dependent not only on the existence of this reservoir of high-PV air, but also on its interaction with the lower-tropospheric PV maximum that was produced by condensation heating.

The rapid small-scale cyclogenesis may be explained by the following sequence of events. Strong surface heating produces a surrogate surface PV anomaly. The associated planetary boundary layer heating and moistening leads to moist convection that occurs in the midst of a strong lower-tropospheric baroclinic zone. Such convection and its consequent latent heating in the midst of strong vertical wind shear is responsible for the generation of a lower-tropospheric PV maximum and the incipient mesoscale cyclogenesis. The interaction of this mesoscale PV anomaly with a strong upper-level trough, or a strong PV anomaly that extends from the stratosphere down to 600 mb, products the second phase of rapid cyclogenesis in which the surface cyclone is transformed into a large-scale extratropical cyclone.

The rapid cyclogenesis depends crucially on the existence of the upper trough, the amplitude of boundary layer heating, the strength of condensation, and the interaction of these processes.

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Shawn M. Milrad, Eyad H. Atallah, John R. Gyakum, and Giselle Dookhie

Abstract

A precipitation climatology is compiled for warm-season events at Montreal, Québec, Canada, using 6-h precipitation data. A total of 1663 events are recorded and partitioned into three intensity categories (heavy, moderate, and light), based on percentile ranges. Heavy (top 10%) precipitation events (n = 166) are partitioned into four types, using a unique manual synoptic typing based on the divergence of Q-vector components. Type A is related to cyclones and strong synoptic-scale quasigeostrophic (QG) forcing for ascent, with high-θe air being advected into the Montreal region from the south. Types B and C are dominated by frontogenesis (mesoscale QG forcing for ascent). Specifically, type B events are warm frontal and feature a near-surface temperature inversion, while type C events are cold frontal and associated with the largest-amplitude synoptic-scale precursors of any type. Finally, type D events are associated with little synoptic or mesoscale QG forcing for ascent and, thus, are deemed to be convective events triggered by weak shortwave vorticity maxima moving through a long-wave ridge environment, in the presence of an anomalously warm, humid, and unstable air mass that is conducive to convection. In general, types A and B feature the strongest dynamical forcing for ascent, while types C and D feature the lowest atmospheric stability. Systematic higher precipitation amounts are not preferential to any event type, although a handful of the largest warm-season precipitation events appear to be slow-moving type C (stationary front) cases.

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Gina M. Ressler, Shawn M. Milrad, Eyad H. Atallah, and John R. Gyakum

Abstract

Freezing rain is a major environmental hazard that is especially common along the St. Lawrence River valley (SLRV) in southern Quebec, Canada. For large cities such as Montreal, severe events can have a devastating effect on people, property, and commerce. In this study, a composite analysis of 46 long-duration events for the period 1979–2008 is presented to identify key synoptic-scale structures and precursors of Montreal freezing rain events. Based on the observed structures of the 500-hPa heights, these events are manually partitioned into three types—west, central, and east—depending on the location and tilt of the 500-hPa trough axis. West events are characterized by a strong surface anticyclone downstream of Montreal, an inverted trough extending northward to the Great Lakes, and a quasi-stationary area of geostrophic frontogenesis located over Quebec. Central events are characterized by a cyclone–anticyclone couplet pattern, with a deeper surface trough extending into southern Ontario, and a strong stationary anticyclone over Quebec. East events are characterized by the passage of a transient well-defined cyclone, and a weaker downstream anticyclone. In all cases, cold northeasterly winds are channeled down the SLRV primarily by pressure-driven channeling. Northeasterly surface winds are associated with strong low-level temperature inversions within the SLRV. Additionally, west events tend to have a longer duration of weaker precipitation, while east events tend to have a shorter duration of more intense precipitation. The results of this study may aid forecasters in identifying and understanding the synoptic-scale structures and precursors to Montreal freezing rain events.

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Melissa Gervais, John R. Gyakum, Eyad Atallah, L. Bruno Tremblay, and Richard B. Neale

Abstract

An intercomparison of the distribution and extreme values of daily precipitation between the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model, version 4 (CCSM4) and several observational/reanalysis data sources are conducted over the contiguous United States and southern Canada. The use of several data sources, from gridded station, satellite, and reanalysis products, provides a measure of errors in the reference datasets. An examination of specific locations shows that the global climate model (GCM) distributions closely match the observations along the East and West Coasts, with larger discrepancies in the Great Plains and Rockies. In general, the distribution of model precipitation is more positively skewed (more light and less heavy precipitation) in the Great Plains and the eastern United States compared to gridded station observations, a recurring error in GCMs. In the Rocky Mountains the GCMs generally overproduce precipitation relative to the observations and furthermore have a more negatively skewed distribution, with fewer lower daily precipitation values relative to higher values. Extreme precipitation tends to be underestimated in regions and time periods typically characterized by large amounts of convective precipitation. This is shown to be the result of errors in the parameterization of convective precipitation that have been seen in previous model versions. However, comparison against several data sources reveals that model errors in extreme precipitation are approaching the magnitude of the disparity between the reference products. This highlights the existence of large errors in some of the products employed as observations for validation purposes.

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Shawn M. Milrad, Kelly Lombardo, Eyad H. Atallah, and John R. Gyakum

Abstract

The 19–21 June 2013 Alberta flood was the second costliest ($6 billion CAD) natural disaster in Canadian history, trailing only the 2016 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, wildfires. One of the primary drivers was an extreme rainfall event that resulted in 75–150 mm of precipitation in the foothills west of Calgary, Canada. Here, the mesoscale dynamics and thermodynamics that contributed to the extreme rainfall event are elucidated through high-resolution numerical model simulations. In addition, terrain reduction model sensitivity experiments using Gaussian smoothing techniques quantify the importance of orography in producing the extreme rainfall event. It is suggested that the extreme rainfall event was initially characterized by the formation of a surface cyclone on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies due to quasigeostrophic (QG) mechanisms. Orographic processes and diabatic heating feedbacks maintained the surface cyclone throughout the event, extending the duration of both easterly upslope flow and QG forcing for ascent in the flood region. The long-duration ascent and associated condensational heat release in the flood region vertically redistributed potential vorticity, anchoring and further extending the duration of the surface cyclone, upslope flow, and the rainfall. Although the magnitudes of ascent and precipitation were smaller in 10% and 25% reduced terrain simulations, only a terrain reduction of greater than 25% drastically altered the location and magnitude of the heaviest precipitation and the associated physical mechanisms.

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Ron McTaggart-Cowan, Lance F. Bosart, John R. Gyakum, and Eyad H. Atallah

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The landfall of Hurricane Katrina (2005) near New Orleans, Louisiana, on 29 August 2005 will be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. By comparison, the extratropical transition (ET) of the system as it accelerates poleward over the following days is innocuous and the system weakens until its eventual demise off the coast of Greenland. The extent of Katrina’s perturbation of the midlatitude flow would appear to be limited given the lack of reintensification or downstream development during ET. However, the slow progression of a strong upper-tropospheric warm pool across the North Atlantic Ocean in the week following Katrina’s landfall prompts the question of whether even a nonreintensifying ET event can lead to significant modification of the midlatitude flow. Analysis of Hurricane Katrina’s outflow layer after landfall suggests that it does not itself make up the long-lived midlatitude warm pool. However, the interaction between Katrina’s anticyclonic outflow and an approaching baroclinic trough is shown to establish an anomalous southwesterly conduit or “freeway” that injects a preexisting tropospheric warm pool over the southwestern United States into the midlatitudes. This warm pool reduces predictability in medium-range forecasts over the North Atlantic and Europe while simultaneously aiding in the development of Hurricanes Maria and Nate. The origin of the warm pool is shown to be the combination of anticyclonic upper-level features generated by eastern Pacific Hurricane Hilary and the south Asian anticyclone (SAA). The hemispheric nature of the connections involved with the development of the warm pool and its injection into the extratropics has an impact on forecasting, since the predictability issue associated with ET in this case involves far more than the potential reintensification of the transitioning system itself.

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