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Lynn McMurdie and Clifford Mass

Abstract

Strong North Pacific storms that impact the North American west coast are sometimes poorly predicted in the short term (up to 48 h) by operational models, with cyclone position errors of hundreds of kilometers and central pressure errors of tens of millibars. These major numerical forecast failures still occur despite continuing improvements in modeling and data assimilation. In this paper, the frequency and intensity of sea level pressure errors at buoy and coastal locations are documented by comparing the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Eta Model forecasts to observations and through case studies of two poorly forecast cyclones from the 2001/02 winter season.

Using data from October 1999 through March 2003 at coastal and offshore sites along the west coast of North America, it was found that large forecast errors (48-h sea level pressure errors greater than 10 mb) by the Eta Model occur 10–15 times each winter, and extremely large errors (48-h errors greater than 15 mb) occur 3–4 times per winter. Such substantial forecast errors are often associated with large position errors of surface low pressure centers. For example, storms associated with large 48-h forecast errors greater than 10 mb at nearshore and coastal sites had average forecast position errors of 453 km and mean absolute central pressure errors of 7.5 mb.

To illustrate the nature of such large forecast errors, two major cyclones that were poorly predicted by several operational models are examined. The 7–8 February 2002 storm was a compact, but powerful, cyclone that struck western Oregon with strong winds, injured four people, and produced extensive damage and power outages. The 24-h numerical forecasts for this event were poor and had a variety of solutions. Two operational models forecast lows of sufficient depth, but displaced them more than 150 km to the east or southeast of the verifying position. Three other operational models did not produce a low at all but only predicted weak troughs. The comparison of the initial conditions of the various models revealed large differences, with the more accurate models starting with sharper, more intense features. The 13–14 December 2001 storm developed rapidly offshore of British Columbia, Canada, and brought extensive rain, winds, and snow to the mountains along the west coast. The 48-h forecasts of sea level pressure by five different operational numerical models had very large errors, with cyclone position errors greater than 400 km and central pressure errors on the order of 10 mb. Differences among the initial conditions of these operational models were smaller than in the February case. Comparison of the initial conditions to surface observations revealed potentially significant errors in the vicinity of the incipient cyclone.

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Lynn A. McMurdie and Kristina B. Katsaros

Abstract

Rapidly deepening cyclones in midlatitudes are characterized by large cloud shields and abundant condensation qualitatively evident in infrared and visible satellite images. With the availability of passive microwave measurements from polar-orbiting satellites, it is now possible to characterize rapidly deepening cyclones quantitatively in terms of integrated water vapor and precipitation intensity. In this study, fields of integrated water vapor, integrated water vapor anomaly (defined as the observed water vapor content minus the monthly mean water vapor content at the particular location), and rainfall intensity index derived from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) on the F-8 satellite of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program are examined for 12 North Atlantic rapidly deepening and 11 North Atlantic non-rapidly deepening storms that occurred during the 1988 and 1989 winter months. By correlating concurrent 6-h deepening rates with the satellite-derived parameters for a region within 550 km of the surface low pressure center, signatures of rapid cyclogenesis are identified in the SSM/I fields. Maximum water vapor anomaly and average precipitation index have correlations with concurrent 6-h deepening rates of 0.56 and 0.55, respectively. The correlations improve dramatically when two outliers are removed, becoming 0.68 and 0.70, respectively. These results indicate that, although most rapidly deepening cyclones have high water vapor anomaly and stronger precipitation index than non-rapidly deepening cyclones, there are storms that deepen rapidly in the absence of high water vapor anomaly or heavy precipitation. In addition, occasionally there are storms that have exceptionally high water vapor anomalies yet do not deepen rapidly. In these unusual cases, it is suggested that atmospheric water vapor and condensation play a secondary role and that dynamical processes are dominant.

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Lynn A. McMurdie and Joseph H. Casola

Abstract

Despite overall improvements in numerical weather prediction and data assimilation, large short-term forecast errors of sea level pressure and 2-m temperature still occur. This is especially true for the west coast of North America where short-term numerical weather forecasts of surface low pressure systems can have large position and central pressure errors. In this study, forecast errors of sea level pressure and temperature in the Pacific Northwest are related to the shape of the large-scale flow aloft. Applying a hierarchical limited-contour clustering algorithm to historical 500-hPa geopotential height data produces four distinct weather regimes. The Rockies ridge regime, which exhibits a ridge near the axis of the Rocky Mountains and nearly zonal flow across the Pacific, experiences the highest magnitude and frequency of large sea level pressure errors. On the other hand, the coastal ridge regime, which exhibits a ridge aligned with the North American west coast, experiences the highest magnitude and frequency of large 2-m minimum temperature errors.

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Garrett B. Wedam, Lynn A. McMurdie, and Clifford F. Mass

Abstract

Despite recent advances in numerical weather prediction, major errors in short-range forecasts still occur. To gain insight into the origin and nature of model forecast errors, error frequencies and magnitudes need to be documented for different models and different regions. This study examines errors in sea level pressure for four operational forecast models at observation sites along the east and west coasts of the United States for three 5-month cold seasons. Considering several metrics of forecast accuracy, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model outperformed the other models, while the North American Mesoscale (NAM) model was least skillful. Sea level pressure errors on the West Coast are greater than those on the East Coast. The operational switch from the Eta to the Weather Research and Forecasting Nonhydrostatic Mesoscale Model (WRF-NMM) at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) did not improve forecasts of sea level pressure. The results also suggest that the accuracy of the Canadian Meteorological Centre’s Global Environmental Mesoscale model (CMC-GEM) improved between the first and second cold seasons, that the ECMWF experienced improvement on both coasts during the 3-yr period, and that the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS) improved during the third cold season on the West Coast.

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Robert M. Rabin, Lynn A. McMurdie, Christopher M. Hayden, and Gary S. Wade

Abstract

Spatial and temporal changes of atmospheric water vapor and surface wind speeds are investigated for a period following an intrusion of cold continental air over the Gulf of Mexico, during the Gulf of Mexico Experiment (GUFMEX) in March 1988. Microwave and infrared satellite measurements from the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) instrument aboard the Defense Meteorological Satellite Project (DMSP) F8 satellite and from the GOES VISSR Atmospheric Sounder (VAS) are used to augment the sparse coverage of rawinsonde sites and surface reports in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico. Total precipitable water is derived from both instruments and from rawinsonde measurements at coastal locations and auxiliary sites on ships and platforms over the Gulf. Accuracies of the precipitable water derived from SSM/I and GOES are comparable, though microwave data provide more uniform coverage, when they are available, than VAS since they are relatively free from contamination by most clouds. Also, the moisture fields derived from microwave data appear to be less noisy than those derived from the infrared. To illustrate possible use of satellite data in the forecast office, moisture fields from both SSM/I and VAS are blended together into imagery, which are compared to analyses from an operational model. Surface wind speeds are also obtained from the microwave data and are compared to the surface observations. Analyses from satellite data appear to add considerable information to the moisture and wind analysis over the Gulf of Mexico and should help in forecasting moisture changes, particularly moisture return near the surrounding coastal areas.

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Gary M. Lackmann, Brian Ancell, Matthew Bunkers, Ben Kirtman, Karen Kosiba, Amy McGovern, Lynn McMurdie, Zhaoxia Pu, Elizabeth Ritchie, and Henry P. Huntington
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