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Olivia Martius and Heini Wernli

Abstract

Tropical, subtropical, and extratropical dynamical processes govern the synoptic-scale evolution of the subtropical jet stream(s) over Africa. However, the relative importance of the respective effects is still under debate and is the focus of this study. Interim ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) data are used to calculate backward trajectories from the subtropical jet over Africa during winter 2005/06. The trajectories allow for studying the jet dynamics from both a potential vorticity (PV) and an angular momentum point of view and for linking the two theoretical frameworks.

Three cases of synoptic-scale Rossby wave breaking in the extratropics and subtropics are presented in detail. They illustrate basic flow configurations where (i) the subtropical jet is mainly forced by tropical dynamics, (ii) extratropical forcing contributes substantially to the jet acceleration, and (iii) strong diabatic processes in the subtropics impact the jet.

The case study results are then generalized for the entire winter season. The main findings are as follows: (i) Approximately 41% of the trajectories reach the subtropical jet from the deep tropics and for these trajectories the nonconservation of angular momentum M due to eddy forcing leads to a decrease of M by about 5%. (ii) A nonnegligible fraction of roughly 18% of the trajectories reaches the subtropical jet from the extratropics. (iii) Wave breaking is instrumental for bringing extratropical, high-PV air southward. (iv) Diabatic processes in the subtropics have a negligible direct effect on the upper-level PV. This is in contrast to observations from the extratropics and might be the consequence of the small planetary vorticity in the tropics and subtropics.

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Claudia Frick and Heini Wernli

Abstract

Accurate numerical weather prediction of intense snowfall events requires the correct representation of dynamical and physical processes on various scales. In this study, a specific event of high-impact wet snowfall is examined that occurred in the northwestern part of Germany in November 2005. First, the synoptic evolution is presented, together with observations of precipitation type and vertical temperature profiles, which reveal the existence of a so-called potential melting layer during the early period of wet snowfall. During the main part, the performance of the operational forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is investigated. It is shown that only the short-term predictions captured the snowfall event, whereas earlier forecasts were in error concerning the phase and/or amount of precipitation. However, even the short-term forecasts produced the onset of surface snowfall too late (i.e., during the dry snowfall period). Reasons for the misforecasts are errors on various scales. For the early forecasts, they include an inaccurate representation of the upper-level trough and a misplacement of the surface cyclone. For the later forecasts, a slight overestimation of the depth of the potential melting layer and a potentially too fast snow melting process in the model lead to the erroneous prediction of surface rainfall during the wet snowfall period. Hindcast experiments with the high-resolution Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling (COSMO) model also point to the necessity of improving its snow melting parameterization in order to provide useful predictions of potentially high-impact wet snowfall events.

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Heini Wernli and Cornelia Schwierz

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A novel method is introduced to generate climatological frequency distributions of meteorological features from gridded datasets. The method is used here to derive a climatology of extratropical cyclones from sea level pressure (SLP) fields. A simple and classical conception of cyclones is adopted where a cyclone is identified as the finite area that surrounds a local SLP minimum and is enclosed by the outermost closed SLP contour. This cyclone identification procedure can be applied to individual time instants, and climatologies of cyclone frequency, fc, are obtained by simple time averaging. Therefore, unlike most other climatologies, the method is not based on the application of a tracking algorithm and considers the size of cyclones. In combination with a conventional cyclone center tracking algorithm that allows the determination of cyclone life times and the location of cyclogenesis and cyclolysis, additional frequency fields can be obtained for special categories of cyclones that are generated in, move through, or decay in a specified geographical area.

The method is applied to the global SLP dataset for the time period 1958–2001 from the latest 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40). In the Northern Hemisphere and during winter, the cyclone frequency field has three maxima in the Pacific storm track (with fc up to 35%), the Atlantic storm track (with fc up to 32%), and the Mediterranean (with fc up to 15%). During the other seasons the fc values are generally reduced in midlatitudes and the subtropical monsoon areas appear as regions with enhanced fc. In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasonal variations are smaller with year-round maxima of fc in the belt from 50° to 70°S (along the coast of Antarctica, with maximum values of almost 40%) and to the east of the Andes (with fc up to 35% during summer). Application of a lifetime threshold value significantly reduces fc, in particular over and close to the continents. Subsets of cyclone frequency fields are calculated for several subjectively chosen regions of cyclone genesis, passage, and lysis. They show some interesting aspects of the behavior of extratropical cyclones; cyclones that decay along the U.S. West Coast, for instance, have a short lifetime and originate almost exclusively from the eastern North Pacific, whereas long-lived and long-distance Pacific cyclones terminate farther north in the Gulf of Alaska.

The approach to calculate frequency distributions of atmospheric flow structures as introduced in this study can be easily applied to gridded data from global atmospheric models and assimilation systems. It combines the counts of atmospheric features with their area of influence, and hence provides a robust and easily interpretable measure of key meteorological structures when comparing and evaluating different analysis datasets and climate model integrations. Further work is required to comprehensively exploit the presented global ERA-40 cyclone climatology, in particular, aspects of its interannual variability.

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Maxi Boettcher and Heini Wernli

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The life cycle of a North Atlantic cyclone in December 2005 that included a rapid propagation phase as a diabatic Rossby wave (DRW) is investigated by means of operational analyses and deterministic forecasts from the ECMWF. A quasigeostrophic omega diagnostic has been applied to assess the impact of upper-level forcing during the genesis, propagation, and intensification phase, respectively. The system was generated in the Gulf of Mexico as a mesoscale convective vortex (MCV) influenced by vertical motion forcing from a nearby upper-level trough. The DRW propagation phase was characterized by a shallow, low-level, diabatically produced potential vorticity (PV) anomaly that rapidly propagated along the southern border of an intense baroclinic zone. No significant upper-level forcing could be identified during this phase of the development. Eventually, explosive intensification occurred as the region of vertical motion forced by an approaching upper-level trough reached the position of the DRW. The rapid intensification of 34 hPa in 24 h led to a mature extratropical cyclone in the central North Atlantic with marked frontal structures associated with a pronounced PV tower.

The performance of four operational deterministic ECMWF forecasts has been investigated for the DRW propagation and cyclone intensification. The forecasts showed a highly variable skill. Despite the fact that the DRW was initially well represented in all forecasts, two of them failed to capture the explosive intensification. By applying a DRW tracking tool, the low-level baroclinicity downstream of the DRW and the moisture supply to the south of the DRW could be identified as the key environmental parameters during DRW propagation. The subsequent cyclone intensification went wrong in two of the forecasts because of the missing interaction of the DRW and the upper-level trough. It is shown that this interaction can fail if the intensity of the DRW and/or the approaching upper-level wave are too weak, or in case of an erroneous structure of the upper-level trough leading to a phasing problem of the vertical interaction with the DRW. Therefore, the DRW intensification bears similar characteristics and forecast challenges as the extratropical reintensification of tropical cyclones.

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Heini Wernli and Michael Sprenger

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A novel approach is introduced to identify potential vorticity (PV) streamers and cutoffs as indicators of Rossby wave breaking near the extratropical tropopause and to compile climatologies of these features on different isentropic surfaces. The method is based on a contour searching algorithm that identifies the dynamical tropopause [2 potential vorticity units (PVU; PVU ≡ 1 × 10−6 K kg−1 m2 s−1) isoline] on isentropic surfaces. The contour is then analyzed to search for cutoffs and filament-like streamers. Whereas the identification of cutoffs is unambiguous, the one for streamers requires the specification of two parameters that determine the width and length of the contour feature to be classified as a streamer. This technique has been applied to the PV distribution in the Northern Hemisphere on isentropes from 295 to 360 K during the time period from 1979 to 1993 using the 15-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-15).

The climatology reveals a pronounced zonal asymmetry in the occurrence of PV streamers and cutoffs. On all isentropes considered there are clear frequency maxima whose location changes with altitude. For instance, in winter and on the 300-K isentrope, stratospheric streamers and cutoffs occur most frequently near 50°–60°N over the western side of Canada and Siberia. On higher isentropes, the maxima are located farther south and at the downstream end of the storm-track regions. Considering continental areas, the Mediterranean appears as a region with particularly abundant PV features. As noted in previous studies, there is a significant seasonal cycle if considering the frequency of PV features on individual isentropes. It is shown that this is mainly due to the seasonal cycle in the location of the isentropes themselves. Comparing the streamer and cutoff frequencies during different seasons on isentropes that are comparably located in the zonal mean yields a fairly robust pattern with almost no seasonal cycle. This indicates on the one hand that care should be taken when considering the seasonal cycle of dynamical processes on isentropes and on the other hand that Rossby wave breaking occurs year-round with almost constant frequency. A quantitative statistical analysis of individual PV features reveals that stratospheric and tropospheric streamers often occur in pairs.

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Stephan Pfahl and Heini Wernli

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Owing to the huge potential impact of precipitation extremes on society, it is important to better understand the mechanisms causing these events, and their variations with respect to a changing climate. In this study, the importance of a particular category of weather systems, namely cyclones, for the occurrence of regional-scale precipitation extremes is quantified globally using the ECMWF Interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim) dataset. Such an event-based climatological approach complements previous case studies, which established the physical relationship between cyclones and heavy precipitation. A high percentage of precipitation extremes is found to be directly related to cyclones. Regional hot spots are identified where this percentage of cyclone-induced precipitation extremes exceeds 80% (e.g., in the Mediterranean region, Newfoundland, near Japan, and over the South China Sea). The results suggest that in these regions changes of heavy precipitation with global warming are specifically sensitive to variations in the dynamical forcing, for example, related to shifts of the storm tracks. Furthermore, properties of cyclones causing extreme precipitation are investigated. In the exit regions of the Northern Hemisphere storm tracks, these cyclones are on average slightly more intense than low pressure systems not associated with precipitation extremes, but no differences with respect to minimum core pressure are found in most other parts of the midlatitudes. The fundamental linkage between cyclones and precipitation extremes may thus provide guidance to forecasters involved in flood prediction, but it is unlikely that forecasting rules based on simple cyclone properties can be established.

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Sebastian Schemm and Heini Wernli

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This study continues the investigation of airstreams in idealized moist baroclinic waves and addresses the formation of the cold conveyor belt (CCB), its linkage to the warm conveyor belt (WCB), and their impact on the development of a midlatitude cyclone. The CCB is identified as a coherent bundle of trajectories, characterized by weak ascent and a strong increase of potential vorticity (PV) along the flow, in contrast to the WCB, defined as the trajectories with maximum ascent. The authors illuminate the role of the two conveyor belts in the formation of two strong PV anomalies that form in the upper (WCB, negative PV anomaly) and lower troposphere (CCB, positive PV anomaly), respectively, and thereby establish a link between these airstreams and relevant aspects of the dynamics of extratropical cyclones. The CCB moves close to the surface along the colder side of the bent-back front and experiences a PV increase as it passes below a region of maximum latent heat release at midtropospheric levels. Accordingly, it arrives with high PV values at the tail of the bent-back front where the most intense low-level winds occur. The WCB, which rises above the bent-back front, causes the formation of the midtropospheric heating rate maximum and thereby not only influences the upper-level downstream development, but also drives the increase of PV along the CCB and, in consequence, indirectly drives the formation of the low-level jet at the tail of the bent-back front.

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Maxi Boettcher and Heini Wernli

Abstract

Diabatic Rossby waves (DRWs) are low-tropospheric positive potential vorticity (PV) anomalies in moist and sufficiently baroclinic regions. They regenerate continuously by moist-diabatic processes and potentially develop into explosively intensifying cyclones. In this study a specific DRW-tracking algorithm is developed and applied to operational ECMWF analyses to compile a first climatology of DRWs in the Northern Hemisphere for the years 2001–10. DRWs are more frequent over the North Pacific than over the North Atlantic with on average 81 and 43 systems per year, respectively. Less than 15% of these systems intensify explosively, on average 12 per year over the Pacific and 5 over the Atlantic. DRWs are most frequent in summer but most of the explosively intensifying DRWs occur in autumn and winter. DRWs are generated typically between 30°–50°N over the eastern parts of the continents and the western/central parts of the oceans. They propagate fairly zonally along the midlatitude baroclinic zone. The generation of the initial low-tropospheric PV anomalies goes along with precipitation processes in characteristic flow patterns, which correspond to 1) flow around the subtropical high against the midlatitude baroclinic zone, 2) flow induced by an upper-level cutoff or a (tropical) cyclone against the baroclinic zone, 3) upper-level trough-induced ascent at the baroclinic zone, and 4) PV remnants of a tropical cyclone or a mesoscale convective system that are advected into the baroclinic zone where they start propagating as a DRW. In most cases, explosive intensification of DRWs occurs through interaction with a preexisting upper-level trough.

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Jana Čampa and Heini Wernli

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Development of extratropical cyclones can be seen as an interplay of three positive potential vorticity anomalies: an upper-level stratospheric intrusion, low-tropospheric diabatically produced potential vorticity (PV), and a warm anomaly at the surface acting as a surrogate PV anomaly. This study, based on the interim ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) dataset, quantifies the amplitude of the PV anomalies of mature extratropical cyclones in different regions in the Northern Hemisphere on a climatological basis.

A tracking algorithm is applied to sea level pressure (SLP) fields to identify cyclone tracks. Surface potential temperature anomalies Δθ and vertical profiles of PV anomalies ΔPV are calculated at the time of the cyclones’ minimum SLP in a vertical cylinder around the surface cyclone center. To compare the cyclones’ characteristics they are grouped according to their location and intensity. Composite ΔPV profiles are calculated for each region and intensity class at the time of minimum SLP and during the cyclone intensification phase.

In the mature stage all three anomalies are on average larger for intense than for weak winter cyclones [e.g., 0.6 versus 0.2 potential vorticity units (PVU; 1 PVU = 10−6 K kg−1 m2 s−1) at lower levels, and 1.5 versus 0.5 PVU at upper levels]. The regional variability of the cyclones’ vertical structure and the profile evolution is prominent (cyclones in some regions are more sensitive to the amplitude of a particular anomaly than in other regions). Values of Δθ and low-level ΔPV are on average larger in the western parts of the oceans than in the eastern parts. Results for summer are qualitatively similar, except for distinctively weaker surface Δθ values.

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Peter Knippertz and Heini Wernli

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Case studies have shown that heavy precipitation events and rapid cyclogenesis in the extratropics can be fueled by moist and warm tropical air masses. Often the tropical moisture export (TME) occurs through a longitudinally confined region in the subtropics. Here a comprehensive climatological analysis of TME is constructed on the basis of seven-day forward trajectories started daily from the tropical lower troposphere using 6-hourly 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) data from the 23-year period 1979–2001. The objective TME identification procedure retains only those trajectories that reach a water vapor flux of at least 100 g kg−1 m s−1 somewhere north of 35°N. The results show four distinct activity maxima with different seasonal behavior: (i) The “pineapple express,” which connects tropical moisture sources near Hawaii with precipitation near the North American west coast, has a marked activity maximum in boreal winter. (ii) TME over the west Pacific is largest in summer, partly related to the East Asian monsoon and the mei-yu–baiu front. This region alone is responsible for a large portion of TME across 35°N. (iii) The narrow activity maximum over the Great Plains of North America is rooted over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea and has a clear maximum in summer and spring. (iv) TME over the western North Atlantic shows the smallest annual cycle with a maximum in winter and autumn. The interannual variability of (i) and (iv) is significantly modulated by El Niño. Over the African–European–Asian region, high orographic barriers impede TME. A typical TME trajectory evolution is poleward and quasi-horizontal in the subtropics and then more eastward and upward in the southern midlatitudes, where TME contributes up to 60% to climatological precipitation. The TME dataset presented here can serve as a basis for future studies on extreme events.

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