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Craig R. Ferguson and Eric F. Wood

Abstract

The lack of observational data for use in evaluating the realism of model-based land–atmosphere feedback signal and strength has been deemed a major obstacle to future improvements to seasonal weather prediction by the Global Land–Atmosphere Coupling Experiment (GLACE). To address this need, a 7-yr (2002–09) satellite remote sensing data record is exploited to produce for the first time global maps of predominant coupling signals. Specifically, a previously implemented convective triggering potential (CTP)–humidity index (HI) framework for describing atmospheric controls on soil moisture–rainfall feedbacks is revisited and generalized for global application using CTP and HI from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), soil moisture from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (EOS) (AMSR-E), and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) merged satellite rainfall product (CMORPH). Based on observations taken during an AMSR-E-derived convective rainfall season, the global land area is categorized into four convective regimes: 1) those with atmospheric conditions favoring deep convection over wet soils, 2) those with atmospheric conditions favoring deep convection over dry soils, 3) those with atmospheric conditions that suppress convection over any land surface, and 4) those with atmospheric conditions that support convection over any land surface. Classification maps are produced using both the original and modified frameworks, and later contrasted with similarly derived maps using inputs from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Modern Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). Both AIRS and MERRA datasets of CTP and HI are validated using radiosonde observations. The combinations of methods and data sources employed in this study enable evaluation of not only the sensitivity of the classification schemes themselves to their inputs, but also the uncertainty in the resultant classification maps. The findings are summarized for 20 climatic regions and three GLACE coupling hot spots, as well as zonally and globally. Globally, of the four-class scheme, regions for which convection is favored over wet and dry soils accounted for the greatest and least extent, respectively. Despite vast differences among the maps, many geographically large regions of concurrence exist. Through its ability to compensate for the latitudinally varying CTP–HI–rainfall tendency characteristics observed in this study, the revised classification framework overcomes limitations of the original framework. By identifying regions where coupling persists using satellite remote sensing this study provides the first observationally based guidance for future spatially and temporally focused studies of land–atmosphere interactions. Joint distributions of CTP and HI and soil moisture, rainfall occurrence, and depth demonstrate the relevance of CTP and HI in coupling studies and their potential value in future model evaluation, rainfall forecast, and/or hydrologic consistency applications.

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Craig R. Ferguson and Eric F. Wood

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The skill of instantaneous Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) retrieved near-surface meteorology, including surface skin temperature (Ts), air temperature (Ta), specific humidity (q), and relative humidity (RH), as well as model-derived surface pressure (P surf) and 10-m wind speed (w), is evaluated using collocated National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in situ observations, offline data from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS), and geostationary remote sensing (RS) data from the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI). Such data are needed for RS-based water cycle monitoring in areas without readily available in situ data. The study is conducted over the continental United States and Africa for a period of more than 6 years (2002–08). For both regions, it provides for the first time the geographic distribution of AIRS retrieval performance. Through conditional sampling, attribution of retrieval errors to scene atmospheric and surface conditions is performed. The findings support previous assertions that performance degrades with cloud fraction and that (positive) bias enhances with altitude. In general AIRS is biased warm and dry. In certain regions, strong AIRS–NCDC correlation suggests that bias-driven errors, which can be substantial, are correctable. The utility of the error characteristics for prescribing the input-induced uncertainty of RS retrieval models is demonstrated through two applications: a microwave soil moisture retrieval algorithm and the Penman–Monteith evapotranspiration model. An important side benefit of this study is the verification of NLDAS forcing.

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Craig R. Ferguson and David M. Mocko

Abstract

While investigating linkages between afternoon peak rainfall amount and land–atmosphere coupling strength, a statistically significant trend in phase 2 of the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS-2) warm season (April–September) afternoon (1700–2259 UTC) precipitation was noted for a large fraction of the conterminous United States, namely, two-thirds of the area east of the Mississippi River, during the period from 1979 to 2015. To verify and better characterize this trend, a thorough statistical analysis is undertaken. The analysis focuses on three aspects of precipitation: amount, frequency, and intensity at 6-hourly time scale and for each calendar month separately. At the NLDAS-2 native resolution of 0.125° × 0.125°, Kendall’s tau and Sen’s slope estimators are used to detect and estimate trends and the Pettitt test is used to detect breakpoints. Parallel analyses are conducted on both NARR and Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), subdaily precipitation estimates. Widespread breakpoints of field significance at the α = 0.05 level are detected in the NLDAS-2 frequency and intensity series for all months and 6-h periods that are absent from the analogous NARR and MERRA-2 datasets. These breakpoints are shown to correspond with a July 1996 NLDAS-2 transition away from hourly 2° × 2.5° NOAA/CPC precipitation estimates to hourly 4-km stage II Doppler radar precipitation estimates in the temporal disaggregation of CPC daily gauge analyses. While NLDAS-2 may provide the most realistic diurnal precipitation cycle overall, users should be aware of this discontinuity and its direct effect on long-term trends in subdaily precipitation and indirect effects on trends in modeled soil moisture, surface temperature, surface energy and water fluxes, snow cover, snow water equivalent, and runoff/streamflow.

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Hyo-Jong Song, Craig R. Ferguson, and Joshua K. Roundy

Abstract

The multimodel Global Land–Atmosphere Coupling Experiment (GLACE) identified the semiarid Southern Great Plains (SGP) as a hotspot for land–atmosphere (LA) coupling and, consequently, land-derived temperature and precipitation predictability. The area including and surrounding the U.S. Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) SGP Climate Research Facility has in particular been well studied in the context of LA coupling. Observation-based studies suggest a coupling signal that is much weaker than modeled, if not elusive. Using North American Regional Reanalysis and North American Land Data Assimilation System data, this study provides a 36-yr (1979–2014) climatology of coupling for ARM-SGP that 1) unifies prior interdisciplinary efforts and 2) isolates the origin of the (weak) coupling signal. Specifically, the climatology of a prominent convective triggering potential–low-level humidity index (CTP–HIlow) coupling classification is linked to corresponding synoptic–mesoscale weather and atmospheric moisture budget analyses. The CTP–HIlow classification defines a dry-advantage regime for which convective triggering is preferentially favored over drier-than-average soils as well as a wet-advantage regime for which convective triggering is preferentially favored over wetter-than-average soils. This study shows that wet-advantage days are a result of horizontal moisture flux convergence over the region, and conversely, dry-advantage days are a result of zonal and vertical moisture flux divergence. In this context, the role of the land is nominal relative to that of atmospheric forcing. Surface flux partitioning, however, can play an important role in modulating diurnal precipitation cycle phase and amplitude and it is shown that soil moisture and sensible heat flux are significantly correlated with both occurrence and intensity of afternoon peak precipitation.

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D. Alex Burrows, Craig R. Ferguson, and Lance F. Bosart

Abstract

The Great Plains (GP) southerly nocturnal low-level jet (GPLLJ) is a dominant contributor to the region’s warm-season (May–September) mean and extreme precipitation, wind energy generation, and severe weather outbreaks—including mesoscale convective systems. The spatiotemporal structure, variability, and impact of individual GPLLJ events are closely related to their degree of upper-level synoptic coupling, which varies from strong coupling in synoptic trough–ridge environments to weak coupling in quiescent, synoptic ridge environments. Here, we apply an objective dynamic classification of GPLLJ upper-level coupling and fully characterize strongly coupled (C) and relatively uncoupled (UC) GPLLJs from the perspective of the ground-based observer. Through composite analyses of C and UC GPLLJ event samples taken from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts’ Coupled Earth Reanalysis of the twentieth century (CERA-20C), we address how the frequency of these jet types, as well as their inherent weather- and climate-relevant characteristics—including wind speed, direction, and shear; atmospheric stability; and precipitation—vary on diurnal and monthly time scales across the southern, central, and northern subregions of the GP. It is shown that C and UC GPLLJ events have similar diurnal phasing, but the diurnal amplitude is much greater for UC GPLLJs. C GPLLJs tend to have a faster and more elevated jet nose, less low-level wind shear, and enhanced CAPE and precipitation. UC GPLLJs undergo a larger inertial oscillation (Blackadar mechanism) for all subregions, and C GPLLJs have greater geostrophic forcing (Holton mechanism) in the southern and northern GP. The results underscore the need to differentiate between C and UC GPLLJs in future seasonal forecast and climate prediction activities.

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Joshua K. Roundy, Craig R. Ferguson, and Eric F. Wood

Abstract

Droughts represent a significant source of social and economic damage in the southeast United States. Having sufficient warning of these extreme events enables managers to prepare for and potentially mitigate the severity of their impacts. A seasonal hydrologic forecast system can provide such warning, but current forecast skill is low during the convective season when precipitation is affected by regionally varying land surface heat flux contributions. Previous studies have classified regions into coupling regimes based on the tendency of surface soil moisture anomalies to trigger convective rainfall. Until now, these classifications have been aimed at assessing the long-term dominant feedback signal. Sufficient focus has not been placed on the temporal variability that underlies this signal. To better understand this aspect of coupling, a new classification methodology suitable at daily time scales is developed. The methodology is based on the joint probability space of surface soil moisture, convective triggering potential, and the low-level humidity index. The methodology is demonstrated over the U.S. Southeast using satellite remote sensing, reanalysis, and hydrological model data. The results show strong persistence in coupling events that is linked to the land surface state. A coupling-based drought index shows good agreement with the temporal and spatial variability of drought and highlights the role of coupling in drought recovery. The implications of the findings for drought and forecasting are discussed.

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Craig R. Ferguson, Eric F. Wood, and Raghuveer K. Vinukollu

Abstract

Land–atmosphere coupling strength or the degree to which land surface anomalies influence boundary layer development—and in extreme cases, rainfall—is arguably the single most fundamental criterion for evaluating hydrological model performance. The Global Land–Atmosphere Coupling Experiment (GLACE) showed that strength of coupling and its representation can affect a model’s ability to simulate climate predictability at the seasonal time scale. And yet, the lack of sufficient observations of coupling at appropriate temporal and spatial scales has made achieving “true” coupling in models an elusive goal. This study uses Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) soil moisture (SM), multisensor remote sensing (RS) evaporative fraction (EF), and Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) lifting condensation level (LCL) to evaluate the realism of coupling in the Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) suite of land surface models (LSMs), Princeton Global Forcing Variable Infiltration Capacity model (PGF–VIC), seven global reanalyses, and the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) over a 5-yr period (2003–07). First, RS and modeled estimates of SM, EF, and LCL are intercompared. Then, emphasis is placed on quantifying RS and modeled differences in convective-season daily correlations between SM–LCL, SM–EF, and EF–LCL for global, regional, and conditional samples. RS is found to yield a substantially weaker state of coupling than model products. However, the rank order of basins by coupling strength calculated from RS and models do roughly agree. Using a mixture of satellite and modeled variables, a map of hybrid coupling strength was produced, which supports the findings of GLACE that transitional zones tend to have the strongest coupling.

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Shubhi Agrawal, Craig R. Ferguson, Lance Bosart, and D. Alex Burrows

Abstract

A spectral analysis of Great Plains 850-hPa meridional winds (V850) from ECMWF’s coupled climate reanalysis of 1901–2010 (CERA-20C) reveals that their warm season (April–September) interannual variability peaks in May with 2–6-yr periodicity, suggestive of an underlying teleconnection influence on low-level jets (LLJs). Using an objective, dynamical jet classification framework based on 500-hPa wave activity, we pursue a large-scale teleconnection hypothesis separately for LLJs that are uncoupled (LLJUC) and coupled (LLJC) to the upper-level jet stream. Differentiating between jet types enables isolation of their respective sources of variability. In the U.S. south-central plains (SCP), May LLJCs account for nearly 1.6 times more precipitation and 1.5 times greater V850 compared to LLJUCs. Composite analyses of May 250-hPa geopotential height (Z250) conditioned on LLJC and LLJUC frequencies highlight a distinct planetary-scale Rossby wave pattern with wavenumber 5, indicative of an underlying circumglobal teleconnection (CGT). An index of May CGT is found to be significantly correlated with both LLJC (r = 0.62) and LLJUC (r = −0.48) frequencies. Additionally, a significant correlation is found between May LLJUC frequency and NAO (r = 0.33). Further analyses expose decadal-scale variations in the CGT–LLJC and CGT–LLJUC teleconnections that are linked to the PDO. Dynamically, these large-scale teleconnections impact LLJ class frequency and intensity via upper-level geopotential anomalies over the western United States that modulate near-surface geopotential and temperature gradients across the SCP.

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Craig R. Ferguson, Shubhi Agrawal, Mark C. Beauharnois, Geng Xia, D. Alex Burrows, and Lance F. Bosart

Abstract

In the context of forecasting societally impactful Great Plains low-level jets (GPLLJs), the potential added value of satellite soil moisture (SM) data assimilation (DA) is high. GPLLJs are both sensitive to regional soil moisture gradients and frequent drivers of severe weather, including mesoscale convective systems. An untested hypothesis is that SM DA is more effective in forecasts of weakly synoptically forced, or uncoupled GPLLJs, than in forecasts of cyclone-induced coupled GPLLJs. Using the NASA Unified Weather Research and Forecasting (NU-WRF) Model, 75 GPLLJs are simulated at 9-km resolution both with and without NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive SM DA. Differences in modeled SM, surface sensible (SH) and latent heat (LH) fluxes, 2-m temperature (T2), 2-m humidity (Q2), PBL height (PBLH), and 850-hPa wind speed (W850) are quantified for individual jets and jet-type event subsets over the south-central Great Plains, as well as separately for each GPLLJ sector (entrance, core, and exit). At the GPLLJ core, DA-related changes of up to 5.4 kg m−2 in SM can result in T2, Q2, LH, SH, PBLH, and W850 differences of 0.68°C, 0.71 g kg−2, 59.9 W m−2, 52.4 W m−2, 240 m, and 4 m s−1, respectively. W850 differences focus along the jet axis and tend to increase from south to north. Jet-type differences are most evident at the GPLLJ exit where DA increases and decreases W850 in uncoupled and coupled GPLLJs, respectively. Data assimilation marginally reduces negative wind speed bias for all jets, but the correction is greater for uncoupled GPLLJs, as hypothesized.

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Matthew A. Campbell, Craig R. Ferguson, D. Alex Burrows, Mark Beauharnois, Geng Xia, and Lance F. Bosart

Abstract

The Great Plains (GP) low-level jet (GPLLJ) contributes to GP warm season water resources (precipitation), wind resources, and severe weather outbreaks. Past research has shown that synoptic and local mesoscale physical mechanisms (Holton and Blackadar mechanisms) are required to explain GPLLJ variability. Although soil moisture–PBL interactions are central to local mechanistic theories, the diurnal effect of regional soil moisture anomalies on GPLLJ speed, northward penetration, and propensity for severe weather is not well known. In this study, two 31-member WRF-ARW stochastic kinetic energy backscatter scheme ensembles simulate a typical warm season GPLLJ case under CONUS-wide wet and dry soil moisture scenarios. In the GP (24°–48°N, 103°–90°W), ensemble mean differences in sensible heating and PBL height of 25–150 W m−2 and 100–700 m, respectively, at 2100 UTC (afternoon) culminate in GPLLJ 850-hPa wind speed differences of 1–4 m s−1 12 hours later (0900 UTC; early morning). Greater heat accumulation in the daytime PBL over dry soil impacts the east–west geopotential height gradient in the GP (synoptic conditions and Holton mechanism) resulting in a deeper thermal low in the northern GP, causing increases in the geostrophic wind. Enhanced daytime turbulent mixing over dry soil impacts the PBL structure (Blackadar mechanism), leading to increased ageostrophic wind. Overnight geostrophic and ageostrophic winds constructively interact, leading to a faster nocturnal GPLLJ over dry soil. Ensemble differences in CIN (~50–150 J kg−1) and CAPE (~500–1000 J kg−1) have implications for severe weather predictability.

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