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Alan Brammer and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

This study presents a large-scale trajectory analysis of African easterly waves (AEWs) across West Africa and the eastern Atlantic. Back trajectories were initialized at multiple pressure levels from in and around the vortex center of the AEW troughs to reveal the source regions of environmental inflow. The trajectory analysis highlights a changing influence of environmental air on AEW troughs. Over West Africa, monsoonal flow dominates with source regions of air from the southwest and east to northeast influencing the trough. As the AEW troughs leave West Africa, flow from the northwest becomes increasingly important. Cluster analysis highlighted that the contribution of trajectories from the northwest increased as the AEW troughs move westward and that this cluster also had high variability in environmental characteristics.

Correlation analysis of outgoing longwave radiation around the troughs with environmental characteristics 72 h earlier was conducted on 443 AEWs. This analysis reveals that the impact of the various source regions on convective activity within the AEW troughs is consistent with the cluster trajectory analysis. While the AEW troughs were over West Africa, convection was sensitive to midlevel equivalent potential temperature around the trough and to the northeast of the trough axis. Over the West African coast and Cape Verde basin, the correlation analysis captures the changing flow regime with sensitivity to west of the trough axis at midlevels and northwest at low levels. These results highlight that the cool and dry low-level northerly trade winds over the Canary and Cape Verde basin can be a crucial influence on AEWs as they leave West Africa.

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Alan Brammer and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

African easterly waves (AEWs) are objectively tracked between West Africa and the tropical Atlantic based on the CFSRv2 data for 1979 to 2012. The characteristics of the troughs of the AEWs at the West African coast are explored and related to whether they favor tropical cyclogenesis over the eastern Atlantic. A logistic regression model was used to determine the optimum combination of predictors that relate AEW characteristics to tropical cyclogenesis. The most skillful model for genesis over the eastern Atlantic consisted of four variables of the AEWs dynamics over the coastal region and the absolute number of days from the peak in the AEW season. Using this diagnostic an equal number of favorable developing and nondeveloping waves were compared through a composite difference analysis. Favorable developing waves had significantly higher moisture content in the lower troposphere to the northwest of the trough as they exited the West African coast compared to favorable nondeveloping waves. Trajectory analysis for all the waves revealed that as the AEWs transition over the West African coast the troughs are typically open to the environment ahead and to the northwest of the trough. For developing waves this means that moist air is ingested into the lower levels of the system, while for nondeveloping waves dry air is ingested. At this point in the AEW life cycle this difference may be fundamental in determining whether a favorable wave can develop or not.

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Gareth J. Berry and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

To examine the dynamical role of convection in African easterly wave (AEW) life cycles the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is used to simulate the evolution of a single AEW from September 2004. The model simulations are validated against corresponding numerical weather prediction analyses and the mean fields closely resemble composite structures from previous studies. A potential vorticity (PV) thinking approach is used to highlight the interactions between dynamics and convection.

Organized deep convection embedded within the AEW has a large contribution to the synoptic-scale mean PV and energetics of the AEW. The PV tendency is maximized in the lower troposphere, consistent with the vertical gradient in diabatic heating rates in the areas of convection. By examining terms in the Lorenz energy cycle, it is shown that diabatic heating associated with convection is as important as adiabatic energy conversion in producing eddy available potential energy of the synoptic AEW, implying that AEWs are best described as hybrid adiabatic and diabatic structures. The net effect of convection is succinctly described using a simulation whereby the parameterizations associated with convection are switched off at the midpoint of the model run. This perturbation experiment shows that, although the AEW continues to propagate westward with a similar phase speed, the net PV value continually weakens with time. This result proves that convection is vital for the maintenance of the AEW as it propagates across West Africa and suggests that without active convection the synoptic AEW cannot persist for an extended length of time.

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Matthew A. Janiga and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

Using data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the modulation of convection by African easterly waves (AEWs) is investigated over regions of the east Atlantic and tropical Africa. To explain the modulation of convection, the large-scale environment (lift, moisture, conditional instability, and shear) is also examined as a function of AEW phase in each region.

Over semiarid portions of tropical Africa, unconditional rain rates are greatest in the northerly phase of AEWs due to the strong adiabatic forcing for ascent. Along the Guinea Coast, the western coast of Africa, and over the east Atlantic—where forcing for ascent is weaker—rainfall is shifted toward the trough where the air is moist. Significant contrasts in the characteristics of convection as a function of AEW phase—comparable in magnitude to regional contrasts—are also observed. In all regions, large and high echo-top convective systems are more sensitive to AEW phase than small and low echo-top systems. In semiarid regions, deep convection and large high echo-top convective systems account for a large fraction of the rainfall in the ridge and northerlies. Stratiform and small low echo-top convective systems dominate in the trough and southerlies. Convective system height and conditional rain rates increase with conditional instability and system sizes may increase with shear. Over the east Atlantic, stratiform fractions and convective system sizes and echo-top heights are greatest in the trough while the ridge is dominated by shallow convection. This is primarily related to the presence of moist air in the trough and dry air in the ridge.

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Michael J. Ventrice and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

The role of convectively coupled atmospheric Kelvin waves (CCKWs) on African easterly wave (AEW) activity is explored over tropical Africa during boreal summer. Examination of the pre-Alberto AEW in 2000 highlights the observation that the convective trigger for the initiation of the AEW was generated by a strong CCKW and that the subsequent intensification of the AEW at the West African coast was associated with a second CCKW. Composite analysis shows that, generally, AEW activity increases during and after the passage of the convectively active phase of strong CCKWs. The increase in AEW activity is consistent with convective triggering at the leading edge of the convective phase of the CCKW. This convective triggering occurs in a region where the background low-level easterly vertical wind shear is increased by the CCKW. As the AEW propagates westward through the convectively active phase of the CCKW, it can develop in an environment favorable for convection. It is also shown that this phase of the CCKW is characterized by enhanced meridional vorticity gradients in the core of the African easterly jet suggesting that enhanced mixed barotropic–baroclinic growth may also be responsible for enhanced AEW activity there.

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Matthew A. Janiga and Chris D. Thorncroft

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The geographic and diurnal variability of moist convection over tropical Africa and the east Atlantic is examined using the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite and related to the variability of the convective environment. The stratiform rain fraction is highest within oceanic and continental regions just north of the equator. Both regions have high column relative humidity (CRH). In both monsoon and semiarid continental regions, stratiform rain fractions are significantly higher on days when the CRH is high, which suggests a relationship between these quantities. Large convective systems with high echo tops dominate the rainfall over the Sahel. The importance of CAPE and shear to the development of these types of systems is suggested by the fact these systems are especially common on days when the CAPE and shear are unusually high.

Both deep convective and stratiform conditional rain rates increase with the size and echo-top height of convective systems. According to the TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) near-surface rain rate, the highest deep convective and stratiform conditional rain rates occur off the coast of West Africa. However, comparisons between the PR near-surface rain rate and rain rates computed from Z–R relationships from the literature suggest that deep convective conditional rain rates over the Sahel are underestimated by the TRMM precipitation algorithm. Over the Sahel, small (large) convective systems produce most of the rainfall in the afternoon (early morning). This is associated with enhanced convective rainfall in the afternoon and stratiform in the early morning. The transition from small to large convective systems as convection propagates away from topographic features is also observed.

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Karen I. Mohr, John Molinari, and Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

The characteristics of convective system populations in West Africa and the western Pacific tropical cyclone basin were analyzed to investigate whether interannual variability in convective activity in tropical continental and oceanic environments is driven by variations in the number of events during the wet season or by favoring large and/or intense convective systems. Convective systems were defined from Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) data as a cluster of pixels with an 85-GHz polarization-corrected brightness temperature below 255 K and with an area of at least 64 km2. The study database consisted of convective systems in West Africa from May to September 1998–2007, and in the western Pacific from May to November 1998–2007. Annual cumulative frequency distributions for system minimum brightness temperature and system area were constructed for both regions. For both regions, there were no statistically significant differences between the annual curves for system minimum brightness temperature. There were two groups of system area curves, split by the TRMM altitude boost in 2001. Within each set, there was no statistically significant interannual variability. Subsetting the database revealed some sensitivity in distribution shape to the size of the sampling area, the length of the sample period, and the climate zone. From a regional perspective, the stability of the cumulative frequency distributions implied that the probability that a convective system would attain a particular size or intensity does not change interannually. Variability in the number of convective events appeared to be more important in determining whether a year is either wetter or drier than normal.

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Chris D. Thorncroft, Nicholas M. J. Hall, and George N. Kiladis

Abstract

This paper promotes the view that African easterly waves (AEWs) are triggered by localized forcing, most likely associated with latent heating upstream of the region of observed AEW growth. A primitive equation model is used to show that AEWs can be triggered by finite-amplitude transient and localized latent heating on a zonally varying basic state that is linearly stable. Heating close to the entrance region of the African easterly jet (AEJ) is shown to initiate AEWs downstream. The heating leads to an initial trough that reaches the West African coast about 5–7 days later, depending on the nature of the heating profile. After this, a structure that projects strongly onto the leading linear normal mode of the basic state becomes established, characterized by a number of westward-propagating disturbances that strongly resemble AEWs. The sensitivity of the forced AEWs to the nature and location of the heating profile is examined. AEWs are most efficiently triggered by heating profiles that establish lower tropospheric circulations close to the entrance region of the AEJ. In the present study, this was best achieved by lower tropospheric heating from shallow convection or upper-level heating and lower-level cooling from a stratiform precipitation profile. Both profiles have significant heating gradients in the vertical in the mid-to-lower troposphere. This triggering paradigm for the genesis of AEWs has consequences for the variability and predictability of AEWs at weather and climate time scales. In addition to the nature of the AEJ, often emphasized, it is crucial to consider the nature and variability of upstream heating triggers.

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Ademe Mekonnen, Chris D. Thorncroft, and Anantha R. Aiyyer

Abstract

The association between convection and African easterly wave (AEW) activity over tropical Africa and the tropical Atlantic during the boreal summer is examined using satellite brightness temperature (TB) and ECMWF reanalysis datasets. Spectral analysis using 18 yr of TB data shows significant variance in the 2–6-day range across most of the region. Within the regions of deep convection, this time scale accounts for about 25%–35% of the total variance.

The 2–6-day convective variance has similar amplitudes over western and eastern Africa, while dynamic measures of AEW activity show stronger amplitudes in the west. This study suggests that weak AEW activity in the east is consistent with initial wave development there and indicates that convection triggered on the western side of the mountains over central and eastern Africa, near Darfur (western Sudan) and Ethiopia, has a role in initiating AEWs westward. The subsequent development and growth of AEWs in West Africa is associated with stronger coherence with convection there.

Results show large year-to-year variability in convection at the 2–6-day time scale, which tends to vary consistently with the mean convection and dynamical measures of AEW activity over West Africa and the Atlantic, but not over central and eastern Africa. The Darfur region is particularly important for providing convective precursors that propagate westward and trigger AEWs downstream. During wet years, convection over eastern Africa (western Ethiopian highlands) can be a significant source of AEW initiation. In addition to being important for precursors of AEWs, the Darfur region is also a source of convection that propagates eastward toward Ethiopia.

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Susanna B. Hopsch, Chris D. Thorncroft, Kevin Hodges, and Anantha Aiyyer

Abstract

The automatic tracking technique used by Thorncroft and Hodges has been used to identify coherent vorticity structures at 850 hPa over West Africa and the tropical Atlantic in the 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis. The presence of two dominant source regions, north and south of 15°N over West Africa, for storm tracks over the Atlantic was confirmed. Results show that the southern storm track provides most of the storms that reach the main development region where most tropical cyclones develop. There exists marked seasonal variability in location and intensity of the storms leaving the West African coast, which may influence the likelihood of downstream intensification and longevity.

There exists considerable year-to-year variability in the number of West African storm tracks, both in numbers over the land and continuing out over the tropical Atlantic Ocean. While the low-frequency variability is well correlated with Atlantic tropical cyclone activity, West African rainfall, and SSTs, the interannual variability is found to be uncorrelated with these. In contrast, variance of the 2–6-day-filtered meridional wind, which provides a synoptic-scale measure of African easterly wave activity, shows a significant, positive correlation with tropical cyclone activity at interannual time scales.

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