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H. F. Dacre and S. L. Gray

Abstract

A climatology of extratropical cyclones is produced using an objective method of identifying cyclones based on gradients of 1-km height wet-bulb potential temperature. Cyclone track and genesis density statistics are analyzed and this method is found to compare well with other cyclone identification methods. The North Atlantic storm track is reproduced along with the major regions of genesis. Cyclones are grouped according to their genesis location and the corresponding lysis regions are identified. Most of the cyclones that cross western Europe originate in the east Atlantic where the baroclinicity and the sea surface temperature gradients are weak compared to the west Atlantic. East Atlantic cyclones also have higher 1-km height relative vorticity and lower mean sea level pressure at their genesis point than west Atlantic cyclones. This is consistent with the hypothesis that they are secondary cyclones developing on the trailing fronts of preexisting “parent” cyclones. The evolution characteristics of composite west and east Atlantic cyclones have been compared. The ratio of their upper- to lower-level forcing indicates that type B cyclones are predominant in both the west and east Atlantic, with strong upper- and lower-level features. Among the remaining cyclones, there is a higher proportion of type C cyclones in the east Atlantic, whereas types A and C are equally frequent in the west Atlantic.

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H. F. Dacre and N. J. Harvey

ABSTRACT

Volcanic ash poses an ongoing risk to safety in the airspace worldwide. The accuracy with which volcanic ash dispersion can be forecast depends on the conditions of the atmosphere into which it is emitted. In this study, meteorological ensemble forecasts are used to drive a volcanic ash transport and dispersion model for the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland. From analysis of these simulations, the authors determine why the skill of deterministic-meteorological forecasts decreases with increasing ash residence time and identify the atmospheric conditions in which this drop in skill occurs most rapidly. Large forecast errors are more likely when ash particles encounter regions of large horizontal flow separation in the atmosphere. Nearby ash particle trajectories can rapidly diverge, leading to a reduction in the forecast accuracy of deterministic forecasts that do not represent variability in wind fields at the synoptic scale. The flow‐separation diagnostic identifies where and why large ensemble spread may occur. This diagnostic can be used to alert forecasters to situations in which the ensemble mean is not representative of the individual ensemble‐member volcanic ash distributions. Knowledge of potential ensemble outliers can be used to assess confidence in the forecast and to avoid potentially dangerous situations in which forecasts fail to predict harmful levels of volcanic ash.

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H. F. Dacre, O. Martínez-Alvarado, and C. O. Mbengue

Abstract

Extreme precipitation associated with extratropical cyclones can lead to flooding if cyclones track over land. However, the dynamical mechanisms by which moist air is transported into cyclones is poorly understood. In this paper we analyze airflows within a climatology of cyclones in order to understand how cyclones redistribute moisture stored in the atmosphere. This analysis shows that within a cyclone’s warm sector the cyclone-relative airflow is rearwards relative to the cyclone propagation direction. This low-level airflow (termed the feeder airstream) slows down when it reaches the cold front, resulting in moisture flux convergence and the formation of a band of high moisture content. One branch of the feeder airstream turns toward the cyclone center, supplying moisture to the base of the warm conveyor belt where it ascends and precipitation forms. The other branch turns away from the cyclone center exporting moisture from the cyclone. As the cyclone travels, this export results in a filament of high moisture content marking the track of the cyclone (often used to identify atmospheric rivers). We find that both cyclone precipitation and water vapor transport increase when moisture in the feeder airstream increases, thus explaining the link between atmospheric rivers and the precipitation associated with warm conveyor belt ascent. Atmospheric moisture budgets calculated as cyclones pass over fixed domains relative to the cyclone tracks show that continuous evaporation of moisture in the precyclone environment moistens the feeder airstream. Evaporation behind the cold front acts to moisten the atmosphere in the wake of the cyclone passage, potentially preconditioning the environment for subsequent cyclone development.

Open access
H. F. Dacre, P. A. Clark, O. Martinez-Alvarado, M. A. Stringer, and D. A. Lavers

Abstract

The term “atmospheric river” is used to describe corridors of strong water vapor transport in the troposphere. Filaments of enhanced water vapor, commonly observed in satellite imagery extending from the subtropics to the extratropics, are routinely used as a proxy for identifying these regions of strong water vapor transport. The precipitation associated with these filaments of enhanced water vapor can lead to high-impact flooding events. However, there remains some debate as to how these filaments form. In this paper, the authors analyze the transport of water vapor within a climatology of wintertime North Atlantic extratropical cyclones. Results show that atmospheric rivers are formed by the cold front that sweeps up water vapor in the warm sector as it catches up with the warm front. This causes a narrow band of high water vapor content to form ahead of the cold front at the base of the warm conveyor belt airflow. Thus, water vapor in the cyclone’s warm sector, not long-distance transport of water vapor from the subtropics, is responsible for the generation of filaments of high water vapor content. A continuous cycle of evaporation and moisture convergence within the cyclone replenishes water vapor lost via precipitation. Thus, rather than representing a direct and continuous feed of moist air from the subtropics into the center of a cyclone (as suggested by the term “atmospheric river”), these filaments are, in fact, the result of water vapor exported from the cyclone, and thus they represent the footprints left behind as cyclones travel poleward from the subtropics.

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H. F. Dacre, M. K. Hawcroft, M. A. Stringer, and K. I. Hodges
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H. F. Dacre, B. R. Crawford, A. J. Charlton-Perez, G. Lopez-Saldana, G. H. Griffiths, and J. Vicencio Veloso

Abstract

The 2016/17 wildfire season in Chile was the worst on record, burning more than 600,000 ha. While wildfires are an important natural process in some areas of Chile, supporting its diverse ecosystems, wildfires are also one of the biggest threats to Chile’s unique biodiversity and its timber and wine industries. They also pose a danger to human life and property because of the sharp wildland–urban interface that exists in many Chilean towns and cities. Wildfires are, however, difficult to predict because of the combination of physical (meteorology, vegetation, and fuel condition) and human (population density and awareness level) factors. Most Chilean wildfires are started because of accidental ignition by humans. This accidental ignition could be minimized if an effective wildfire warning system alerted the population to the heightened danger of wildfires in certain locations and meteorological conditions. Here, we demonstrate the design of a novel probabilistic wildfire prediction system. The system uses ensemble forecast meteorological data together with a long time series of fire products derived from Earth observation to predict not only fire occurrence but also how intense wildfires could be. The system provides wildfire risk estimation and associated uncertainty for up to six days in advance and communicates it to a variety of end users. The advantage of this probabilistic wildfire warning system over deterministic systems is that it allows users to assess the confidence of a forecast and thus make more informed decisions regarding resource allocation and forest management. The approach used in this study could easily be adapted to communicate other probabilistic forecasts of natural hazards.

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