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Gabriel A. Vecchi

Abstract

The mechanisms that drove zonal wind stress (τx) changes in the near-equatorial Pacific at the end of the extreme 1997–98 El Niño event are explored using a global atmospheric general circulation model. The analysis focuses on three features of the τx evolution between October 1997 and May 1998 that were fundamental in driving the oceanic changes at the end of this El Niño event: (i) the southward shift of near-date-line surface zonal wind stress (τx) anomalies beginning November 1997, (ii) the disappearance of the easterly τx from the eastern equatorial Pacific (EEqP) in February 1998, and (iii) the reappearance of easterly τx in the EEqP in May 1998. It is shown that these wind changes represent the deterministic response of the atmosphere to the observed sea surface temperature (SST) field, resulting from changes in the meridional structure of atmospheric convective anomalies in response to the seasonally phase-locked meridional movement of the warmest SST.

The southward shift of the near-date-line τx anomalies at the end of this El Niño event was controlled by the seasonal movement of the warmest SST south of the equator, which—both directly and through its influence on the atmospheric response to changes in SST anomaly—brought the convective anomalies from being centered about the equator to being centered south of the equator. The disappearance (reappearance) of easterly EEqP τx has only been evident in extreme El Niño events and has been associated with the development (northward retreat) of an equatorial intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). The disappearance/return of EEqP easterly τx arises in the AGCM as the deterministic response to changes in the SST field, tied principally to the changes in climatological SST (given time-invariant extreme El Niño SSTA) and not to changes in the underlying SSTA field. The disappearance (return) of EEqP easterly τx in late boreal winter (late boreal spring) is a characteristic atmospheric response to idealized extreme El Niño SST anomalies; this suggests that the distinctive termination of the 1997–98 El Niño event is that to be expected for extreme El Niño events.

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Gabriele Villarini and Gabriel A. Vecchi

Abstract

Tropical cyclones—particularly intense ones—are a hazard to life and property, so an assessment of the changes in North Atlantic tropical cyclone intensity has important socioeconomic implications. In this study, the authors focus on the seasonally integrated power dissipation index (PDI) as a metric to project changes in tropical cyclone intensity. Based on a recently developed statistical model, this study examines projections in North Atlantic PDI using output from 17 state-of-the-art global climate models and three radiative forcing scenarios. Overall, the authors find that North Atlantic PDI is projected to increase with respect to the 1986–2005 period across all scenarios. The difference between the PDI projections and those of the number of North Atlantic tropical cyclones, which are not projected to increase significantly, indicates an intensification of North Atlantic tropical cyclones in response to both greenhouse gas (GHG) increases and aerosol changes over the current century. At the end of the twenty-first century, the magnitude of these increases shows a positive dependence on projected GHG forcing. The projected intensification is significantly enhanced by non-GHG (primarily aerosol) forcing in the first half of the twenty-first century.

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Gabriele Villarini and Gabriel A. Vecchi

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This study focuses on the statistical modeling of the power dissipation index (PDI) and accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) for the North Atlantic basin over the period 1949–2008, which are metrics routinely used to assess tropical storm activity, and their sensitivity to sea surface temperature (SST) changes. To describe the variability exhibited by the data, four different statistical distributions are considered (gamma, Gumbel, lognormal, and Weibull), and tropical Atlantic and tropical mean SSTs are used as predictors. Model selection, both in terms of significant covariates and their functional relation to the parameters of the statistical distribution, is performed using two penalty criteria. Two different SST datasets are considered [the Met Office’s Global Sea Ice and Sea Surface Temperature dataset (HadISSTv1) and NOAA’s extended reconstructed SST dataset (ERSSTv3b)] to examine the sensitivity of the results to the input data.

The statistical models presented in this study are able to well describe the variability in the observations according to several goodness-of-fit diagnostics. Both tropical Atlantic and tropical mean SSTs are significant predictors, independently of the SST input data, penalty criterion, and tropical storm activity metric. The application of these models to centennial reconstructions and seasonal forecasting is illustrated.

The sensitivity of North Atlantic tropical cyclone frequency, duration, and intensity is examined for both uniform and nonuniform SST changes. Under uniform SST warming, these results indicate that there is a modest sensitivity of intensity, and a decrease in tropical storm and hurricane frequencies. On the other hand, increases in tropical Atlantic SST relative to the tropical mean SST suggest an increase in the intensity and frequency of North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.

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Gabriele Villarini and Gabriel A. Vecchi

Abstract

By considering the intensity, duration, and frequency of tropical cyclones, the power dissipation index (PDI) and accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) are concise metrics routinely used to assess tropical storm activity. This study focuses on the development of a hybrid statistical–dynamical seasonal forecasting system for the North Atlantic Ocean’s PDI and ACE over the period 1982–2011. The statistical model uses only tropical Atlantic and tropical mean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to describe the variability exhibited by the observational record, reflecting the role of both local and nonlocal effects on the genesis and development of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic basin. SSTs are predicted using a 10-member ensemble of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model, version 2.1 (GFDL CM2.1), an experimental dynamical seasonal-to-interannual prediction system. To assess prediction skill, a set of retrospective predictions is initialized for each month from November to April, over the years 1981–2011. The skill assessment indicates that it is possible to make skillful predictions of ACE and PDI starting from November of the previous year: skillful predictions of the seasonally integrated North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity for the coming season could be made even while the current one is still under way. Probabilistic predictions for the 2012 North Atlantic tropical cyclone season are presented.

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Nicholas A. Bond and Gabriel A. Vecchi

Abstract

The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is the primary mode of large-scale intraseasonal variability in the Tropics. Previous work has explored the influences of the MJO on atmospheric circulation anomalies over the North Pacific Ocean and precipitation in California, among other effects. This study focuses on the relationship between the MJO and mean precipitation in the states of Oregon and Washington and that between the MJO and the occurrence of flooding in western Washington. The MJO is diagnosed using principal component analysis of 850-hPa zonal winds from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis for 1979–2000. The dataset for precipitation is daily rain gauge data gridded on a scale of 50 km and covering 1979–94. The occurrence of flooding is based on streamflow records from the Sauk, Snoqualmie, and Chehalis Rivers for 1979–2000. The results indicate that the phase of the MJO has a substantial systematic effect on intraseasonal variability in precipitation in Oregon and Washington in both early winter (October–December) and late winter (January–March). The MJO is also associated with a statistically significant enhancement and modulation of floods in early winter. The phases of the MJO that promote enhanced precipitation in the mean and increased incidence of western Washington floods are substantially different during early winter than during late winter. It is suggested that this result is attributable to the difference in the atmospheric circulation of the North Pacific in early versus late winter.

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Ian D. Lloyd and Gabriel A. Vecchi

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The Indian Ocean exhibits strong variability on a number of time scales, including prominent intraseasonal variations in both the atmosphere and ocean. Of particular interest is the south tropical Indian Ocean thermocline ridge, a region located between 12° and 5°S, which exhibits prominent variability in sea surface temperature (SST) due to dominant winds that raise the thermocline and shoal the mixed layer. In this paper, submonthly (less than 30 day) cooling events in the thermocline ridge region are diagnosed with observations and models, and are related to large-scale conditions in the Indo-Pacific region. Observations from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI) satellite were used to identify 16 cooling events in the period 1998–2007, which on average cannot be fully accounted for by air–sea enthalpy fluxes. Analysis of observations and a hierarchy of models, including two coupled global climate models (GFDL CM2.1 and GFDL CM2.4), indicates that ocean dynamical changes are important to the cooling events. For extreme cooling events (above 2.5 standard deviations), air–sea enthalpy fluxes account for approximately 50% of the SST signature, and oceanic processes cannot in general be neglected. For weaker cooling events (1.5–2.5 standard deviations), air–sea enthalpy fluxes account for a larger fraction of the SST signature. Furthermore, it is found that cooling events are preconditioned by large-scale, low-frequency changes in the coupled ocean–atmosphere system. When the thermocline is unusually shallow in the thermocline ridge region, cooling events are more likely to occur and are stronger; these large-scale conditions are more (less) likely during La Niña (El Niño/Indian Ocean dipole) events. Strong cooling events are associated with changes in atmospheric convection, which resemble the Madden–Julian oscillation, in both observations and the models.

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Gabriel A. Vecchi and Brian J. Soden

Abstract

This study examines the response of the tropical atmospheric and oceanic circulation to increasing greenhouse gases using a coordinated set of twenty-first-century climate model experiments performed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). The strength of the atmospheric overturning circulation decreases as the climate warms in all IPCC AR4 models, in a manner consistent with the thermodynamic scaling arguments of Held and Soden. The weakening occurs preferentially in the zonally asymmetric (i.e., Walker) rather than zonal-mean (i.e., Hadley) component of the tropical circulation and is shown to induce substantial changes to the thermal structure and circulation of the tropical oceans. Evidence suggests that the overall circulation weakens by decreasing the frequency of strong updrafts and increasing the frequency of weak updrafts, although the robustness of this behavior across all models cannot be confirmed because of the lack of data. As the climate warms, changes in both the atmospheric and ocean circulation over the tropical Pacific Ocean resemble “El Niño–like” conditions; however, the mechanisms are shown to be distinct from those of El Niño and are reproduced in both mixed layer and full ocean dynamics coupled climate models. The character of the Indian Ocean response to global warming resembles that of Indian Ocean dipole mode events. The consensus of model results presented here is also consistent with recently detected changes in sea level pressure since the mid–nineteenth century.

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Abdou Khouakhi, Gabriele Villarini, and Gabriel A. Vecchi

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This study quantifies the relative contribution of tropical cyclones (TCs) to annual, seasonal, and extreme rainfall and examines the connection between El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the occurrence of extreme TC-induced rainfall across the globe. The authors use historical 6-h best-track TC datasets and daily precipitation data from 18 607 global rain gauges with at least 25 complete years of data between 1970 and 2014. The highest TC-induced rainfall totals occur in East Asia (>400 mm yr−1) and northeastern Australia (>200 mm yr−1), followed by the southeastern United States and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (100–150 mm yr−1). Fractionally, TCs account for 35%–50% of the mean annual rainfall in northwestern Australia, southeastern China, the northern Philippines, and Baja California, Mexico. Seasonally, between 40% and 50% of TC-induced rain is recorded along the western coast of Australia and in islands of the south Indian Ocean in the austral summer and in East Asia and Mexico in boreal summer and fall. In terms of extremes, using annual maximum and peak-over-threshold approaches, the highest proportions of TC-induced rainfall are found in East Asia, followed by Australia and North and Central America, with fractional contributions generally decreasing farther inland from the coast. The relationship between TC-induced extreme rainfall and ENSO reveals that TC-induced extreme rainfall tends to occur more frequently in Australia and along the U.S. East Coast during La Niña and in East Asia and the northwestern Pacific islands during El Niño.

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Gabriel A. Vecchi and D. E. Harrison

Abstract

The 1997–98 El Niño was both unusually strong and terminated unusually. Warm eastern equatorial Pacific (EEqP) sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) exceeded 4°C at the event peak and lasted well into boreal spring of 1998, even though subsurface temperatures began cooling in December 1997. The oceanic processes that controlled this unusual termination are explored here and can be characterized by three features: (i) eastward propagating equatorial Pacific thermocline (Ztc) shoaling beginning in the central Pacific in November 1997; (ii) persistent warm EEqP SSTA between December 1997 and May 1998, despite strong EEqP Ztc shoaling (and subsurface cooling); and (iii) an abrupt cooling of EEqP SSTA in early May 1998 that exceeded 4°C within two weeks.

It is shown here that these changes can be understood in terms of the oceanic response to changes to the meridional structure of the near-equatorial zonal wind field. Equatorial near-date-line westerly wind anomalies greatly decreased in late 1997, associated with a southward shift of convective and wind anomalies. In the EEqP, equatorial easterlies disappeared (reappeared) in late January (early May) 1998, driving the springtime extension (abrupt termination) of this El Niño event. The authors suggest that the wind changes arise from fundamentally meridional processes and are tied to the annual cycle of insolation.

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Gabriel A. Vecchi and Matthew J. Harrison

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An integrated in situ Indian Ocean observing system (IndOOS) is simulated using a high-resolution ocean general circulation model (OGCM) with daily mean forcing, including an estimate of subdaily oceanic variability derived from observations. The inclusion of subdaily noise is fundamental to the results; in the mixed layer it is parameterized as Gaussian noise with an rms of 0.1°C; below the mixed layer a Gaussian interface displacement with an rms of 7 m is used. The focus of this assessment is on the ability of an IndOOS—comprising a 3° × 3° Argo profiling float array, a series of frequently repeated XBT lines, and an array of moored buoys—to observe the interannual and subseasonal variability of subsurface Indian Ocean temperature. The simulated IndOOS captures much of the OGCM interannual subsurface temperature variability.

A fully deployed Argo array with 10-day sampling interval is able to capture a significant part of the Indian Ocean interannual temperature variability; a 5-day sampling interval degrades its ability to capture variability. The proposed moored buoy array and frequently repeated XBT lines provide complementary information in key regions, particularly the Java/Sumatra and Somali upwelling and equatorial regions. Since the subdaily noise is of the same order as the subseasonal signal and since much of the variability is submonthly, a 5-day sampling interval does not drastically enhance the ability of Argo to capture the OGCM subseasonal variability. However, as sampling intervals are decreased, there is enhanced divergence of the Argo floats, diminished ability to quality control data, and a decreased lifetime of the floats; these factors argue against attempting to resolve subseasonal variability with Argo by shortening the sampling interval. A moored array is essential to capturing the subseasonal and near-equatorial variability in the model, and the proposed moored buoy locations span the region of strong subseasonal variability. On the whole, the proposed IndOOS significantly enhances the ability to capture both interannual and subseasonal variability in the Indian Ocean.

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