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Peter B. Gibson, Andrew J. Pitman, Ruth Lorenz, and Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick


Understanding the physical drivers of heat waves is essential for improving short-term forecasts of individual events and long-term projections of heat waves under climate change. This study provides the first analysis of the influence of the large-scale circulation on Australian heat waves, conditional on the land surface conditions. Circulation types, sourced from reanalysis, are used to characterize the different large-scale circulation patterns that drive heat wave events across Australia. The importance of horizontal temperature advection is illustrated in these circulation patterns, and the pattern occurrence frequency is shown to reorganize through different modes of climate variability. It is further shown that the relative likelihood of a particular synoptic situation being associated with a heat wave is strongly modulated by the localized partitioning of available energy between surface sensible and latent heat fluxes (as measured through evaporative fraction) in many regions in reanalysis data. In particular, a several-fold increase in the likelihood of heat wave day occurrence is found during days of reduced evaporative fraction under favorable circulation conditions. The atmospheric circulation and land surface conditions linked to heat waves in reanalysis were then examined in the context of CMIP5 climate model projections. Large uncertainty was found to exist for many regions, especially in terms of the direction of future land surface changes and in terms of the magnitude of atmospheric circulation changes. Efforts to constrain uncertainty in both atmospheric and land surface processes in climate models, while challenging, should translate to more robust regional projections of heat waves.

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Hamish D. Prince, Nicolas J. Cullen, Peter B. Gibson, Jono Conway, and Daniel G. Kingston


The occurrence of extreme precipitation events in New Zealand regularly results in devastating impacts to the local society and environment. An automated atmospheric river (AR) detection technique (ARDT) is applied to construct a climatology (1979–2019) of extreme midlatitude moisture fluxes conducive to extreme precipitation. A distinct seasonality exists in AR occurrence aligning with seasonal variations in the midlatitude jet streams. The formation of the Southern Hemisphere winter split jet enables AR occurrence to persist through all seasons in northern regions of New Zealand, while southern regions of the country exhibit a substantial (50%) reduction in AR occurrence as the polar jet shifts southward during the cold season. ARs making landfall on the western coast of New Zealand (90% of all events) are characterized by a dominant northwesterly moisture flux associated with a distinct dipole pressure anomaly, with low pressure to the southwest and high pressure to the northeast of New Zealand. Precipitation totals during AR events increase with AR rank (five-point scale) throughout the country, with the most substantial increase on the windward side of the Southern Alps (South Island). The largest events (rank 5 ARs) produce 3-day precipitation totals exceeding 1000 mm. ARs account for up to 78% of total precipitation and up to 94% of extreme precipitation on the west coast of the South Island. Assessment of the multiscale atmospheric processes associated with AR events governing extreme precipitation in the Southern Alps of New Zealand should remain a priority given their hydrological significance and impact on people and infrastructure.

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Peter B. Gibson, Duane E. Waliser, Bin Guan, Michael J. DeFlorio, F. Martin Ralph, and Daniel L. Swain


Persistent winter ridging events are a consistent feature of meteorological drought across the western and southwestern United States. In this study, a ridge detection algorithm is developed and applied on daily geopotential height anomalies to track and quantify the diversity of individual ridge characteristics (e.g., position, frequency, magnitude, extent, and persistence). Three dominant ridge types are shown to play important, but differing, roles for influencing the location of landfalling atmospheric rivers (ARs), precipitation, and subsequently meteorological drought. For California, a combination of these ridge types is important for influencing precipitation deficits on daily through seasonal time scales, indicating the various pathways by which ridging can induce drought. Furthermore, both the frequency of ridge types and reduced AR activity are necessary features for explaining drought variability on seasonal time scales across the western and southwestern regions. The three ridge types are found to be associated in different ways with various remote drivers and modes of variability, highlighting possible sources of subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) predictability. A comparison between ridge types shows that anomalously large and persistent ridging events relate to different Rossby wave trains across the Pacific with different preferential upstream locations of tropical heating. For the “South-ridge” type, centered over the Southwest, a positive trend is found in both the frequency and persistence of these events across recent decades, likely contributing to observed regional drying. These results illustrate the utility of feature tracking for characterizing a wider range of ridging features that collectively influence precipitation deficits and drought.

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