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Kelly Mahoney
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Kelly M. Mahoney

Abstract

Model simulations of the 2013 Colorado Front Range floods are performed using 4-km horizontal grid spacing to evaluate the impact of using explicit convection (EC) versus parameterized convection (CP) in the model convective physics “gray zone.” Significant differences in heavy precipitation forecasts are found across multiple regions in which heavy rain and high-impact flooding occurred. The relative contribution of CP-generated precipitation to total precipitation suggests that greater CP scheme activity in areas upstream of the Front Range flooding may have led to significant downstream model error.

Heavy convective precipitation simulated by the Kain–Fritsch CP scheme in particular led to an alteration of the low-level moisture flux and moisture transport fields that ultimately prevented the generation of heavy precipitation in downstream areas as observed. An updated, scale-aware version of the Kain–Fritsch scheme is also tested, and decreased model errors both up- and downstream suggest that scale-aware updates yield improvements in the simulation of this event. Comparisons among multiple CP schemes demonstrate that there are model convective physics gray zone considerations that significantly impact the simulation of extreme rainfall in this event.

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Kelly M. Mahoney and Gary M. Lackmann

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The sensitivity of numerical model forecasts of coastal cyclogenesis and frontogenesis to the choice of model cumulus parameterization (CP) scheme is examined for the 17 February 2004 southeastern U.S. winter weather event. This event featured a complex synoptic and mesoscale environment, as the presence of cold-air damming, a developing coastal surface cyclone, and an upper-level trough combined to present a daunting winter weather forecast scenario. The operational forecast challenge was further complicated by erratic numerical model predictions. The most poignant area of disagreement between model runs was the treatment of a coastal cyclone and an associated coastal front, features that would affect the location and timing of precipitation and influence the precipitation type. At the time of the event, it was hypothesized that the Betts–Miller–Janjić (BMJ) CP scheme was dictating the location and intensity of the initial coastal cyclone center in operational Eta Model forecasts. For this reason, forecasts for this case were rerun with the workstation Eta Model using the Kain–Fritsch (KF) CP scheme to further examine the sensitivity to this parameterization choice. Results confirm that the model CP scheme played a major role in the forecast for this case, affecting the quantitative precipitation forecast as well as the strength, location, and structure of coastal cyclogenesis and coastal frontogenesis. The Eta Model forecast using the KF CP scheme produced a relatively uniform distribution of convective precipitation oriented along the axis of an inverted trough and strong coastal front. In contrast, the BMJ forecasts resulted in a weaker coastal front and the development of multiple distinct closed cyclonic circulations in association with more localized convective precipitation centers. An additional BMJ forecast in which the shallow mixing component of the scheme was disabled bore a closer semblance to the KF forecasts relative to the original BMJ forecast. Suggestions are provided to facilitate the identification of CP-driven cyclones using standard operational model output parameters.

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Kelly M. Mahoney and Gary M. Lackmann

Abstract

Operational forecasters in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States have noted a positive quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) bias in numerical weather prediction (NWP) model forecasts downstream of some organized, cold-season convective systems. Examination of cold-season cases in which model QPF guidance exhibited large errors allowed identification of two representative cases for detailed analysis. The goals of the case study analyses are to (i) identify physical mechanisms through which the upstream convection (UC) alters downstream precipitation amounts, (ii) determine why operational models are challenged to provide accurate guidance in these situations, and (iii) suggest future research directions that would improve model forecasts in these situations and allow forecasters to better anticipate such events. Two primary scenarios are identified during which downstream precipitation is altered in the presence of UC for the study region: (i) a fast-moving convective (FC) scenario in which organized convective systems oriented parallel to the lower-tropospheric flow are progressive relative to the parent synoptic system, and appear to disrupt poleward moisture transport, and (ii) a situation characterized by slower-moving convection (SC) relative to the parent system. Analysis of a representative FC case indicated that moisture consumption, stabilization via convective overturning, and modification of the low-level flow to a more westerly direction in the postconvective environment all appear to contribute to the reduction of downstream precipitation. In the FC case, operational Eta Model forecasts moved the organized UC too slowly, resulting in an overestimate of downstream moisture transport. A 4-km explicit convection model forecast from the Weather Research and Forecasting model produced a faster-moving upstream convective system and improved downstream QPF. In contrast to the FC event, latent heat release in the primary rainband is shown to enhance the low-level jet ahead of the convection in the SC case, thereby increasing moisture transport into the downstream region. A negative model QPF bias was observed in Eta Model forecasts for the SC event. Suggestions are made for precipitation forecasting in UC situations, and implications for NWP model configuration are discussed.

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Kelly M. Mahoney and Gary M. Lackmann

Abstract

Analysis of a pair of three-dimensional simulations of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) reveals a significant sensitivity of convective momentum transport (CMT), MCS motion, and the generation of severe surface winds to ambient moisture. The Weather Research and Forecasting model is used to simulate an idealized MCS, which is compared with an MCS in a drier midlevel environment. The MCS in the drier environment is smaller, moves slightly faster, and exhibits increased descent and more strongly focused areas of enhanced CMT near the surface in the trailing stratiform region relative to that in the control simulation.

A marked increase in the occurrence of severe surface winds is observed between the dry midlevel simulation and the control. It is shown that the enhanced downward motion associated with decreased midlevel relative humidity affects CMT fields and contributes to an increase in the number of grid-cell occurrences of severe surface winds. The role of a descending rear-inflow jet in producing strong surface winds at locations trailing the gust front is also analyzed, and is found to be associated with low-level CMT maxima, particularly in the drier midlevel simulation.

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Michael J. Brennan, Gary M. Lackmann, and Kelly M. Mahoney

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The use of the potential vorticity (PV) framework by operational forecasters is advocated through case examples that demonstrate its utility for interpreting and evaluating numerical weather prediction (NWP) model output for weather systems characterized by strong latent heat release (LHR). The interpretation of the dynamical influence of LHR is straightforward in the PV framework; LHR can lead to the generation of lower-tropospheric cyclonic PV anomalies. These anomalies can be related to meteorological phenomena including extratropical cyclones and low-level jets (LLJs), which can impact lower-tropospheric moisture transport.

The nonconservation of PV in the presence of LHR results in a modification of the PV distribution that can be identified in NWP model output and evaluated through a comparison with observations and high-frequency gridded analyses. This methodology, along with the application of PV-based interpretation, can help forecasters identify aspects of NWP model solutions that are driven by LHR; such features are often characterized by increased uncertainty due to difficulties in model representation of precipitation amount and latent heating distributions, particularly for convective systems.

Misrepresentation of the intensity and/or distribution of LHR in NWP model forecasts can generate errors that propagate through the model solution with time, potentially degrading the representation of cyclones and LLJs in the model forecast. The PV framework provides human forecasters with a means to evaluate NWP model forecasts in a way that facilitates recognition of when and how value may be added by modifying NWP guidance. This utility is demonstrated in case examples of coastal extratropical cyclogenesis and LLJ enhancement. Information is provided regarding tools developed for applying PV-based techniques in an operational setting.

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Michael J. Mueller, Kelly M. Mahoney, and Mimi Hughes

Abstract

A series of precipitation events impacted the Pacific Northwest during the first two weeks of November 2006. This sequence was punctuated by a particularly potent inland-penetrating atmospheric river (AR) that produced record-breaking precipitation across the region during 5–7 November. The precipitation caused destructive flooding as far inland as Montana’s Glacier National Park, 800 km from the Pacific Ocean. This study investigates the inland penetration of moisture during the event using a 4–1.33-km grid spacing configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) modeling system. A high-resolution simulation allowed an analysis of interactions between the strong AR and terrain features such as the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge (CR Gorge).

Moisture transport in the vicinity of the Cascades is assessed using various metrics. The most efficient pathway for moisture penetration was through the gap (i.e., CR Gap) between Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, which includes the CR Gorge. While the CR Gap is a path of least resistance through the Cascades, most of the total moisture transport that survived transit past the Cascades overtopped the mountain barrier itself. This is due to the disparity between the length of the ridge (~800 km) and relatively narrow width of the CR Gap (~93 km). Moisture transport reductions were larger across the Washington Cascades and the southern-central Oregon Cascades than through the CR Gap. During the simulation, drying ratios through the CR Gap (9.3%) were notably less than over adjacent terrain (19.6%–30.6%). Drying ratios decreased as moisture transport intensity increased.

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Janice L. Bytheway, Mimi Hughes, Kelly Mahoney, and Robert Cifelli

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The Russian River in northern California is an important hydrological resource that typically depends on a few significant precipitation events per year, often associated with atmospheric rivers (ARs), to maintain its annual water supply. Because of the highly variable nature of annual precipitation in the region, accurate quantitative precipitation estimates (QPEs) are necessary to drive hydrologic models and inform water management decisions. The basin’s location and complex terrain present a unique challenge to QPEs, with sparse in situ observations and mountains that inhibit remote sensing by ground radars. Gridded multisensor QPE datasets can fill in the gaps but are susceptible to both the errors and uncertainties from the ingested datasets and uncertainties due to interpolation methods. In this study a dense network of independently operated rain gauges is used to evaluate gridded QPE from the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) during 44 precipitation events occurring during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 wet seasons (October–March). The MRMS QPE products matched the gauge estimates of precipitation reasonably well in approximately half the cases but failed to capture the spatial distribution and intensity of the rainfall in the remaining cases. ERA-Interim reanalysis data suggest that the differences in performance are related to synoptic-scale patterns and AR landfall location. These synoptic-scale differences produce different rainfall distributions and influence basin-scale winds, potentially creating regions of small-scale precipitation enhancement or suppression. Data from four profiling radars indicated that a larger fraction of the precipitation in poorly captured events occurred as shallow stratiform rain unobserved by radar.

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Kelly Mahoney, Michael Alexander, James D. Scott, and Joseph Barsugli

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A high-resolution case-based approach for dynamically downscaling climate model data is presented. Extreme precipitation events are selected from regional climate model (RCM) simulations of past and future time periods. Each event is further downscaled using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model to storm scale (1.3-km grid spacing). The high-resolution downscaled simulations are used to investigate changes in extreme precipitation projections from a past to a future climate period, as well as how projected precipitation intensity and distribution differ between the RCM scale (50-km grid spacing) and the local scale (1.3-km grid spacing). Three independent RCM projections are utilized as initial and boundary conditions to the downscaled simulations, and the results reveal considerable spread in projected changes not only among the RCMs but also in the downscaled high-resolution simulations. However, even when the RCM projections show an overall (i.e., spatially averaged) decrease in the intensity of extreme events, localized maxima in the high-resolution simulations of extreme events can remain as strong or even increase. An ingredients-based analysis of prestorm instability, moisture, and forcing for ascent illustrates that while instability and moisture tend to increase in the future simulations at both regional and local scales, local forcing, synoptic dynamics, and terrain-relative winds are quite variable. Nuanced differences in larger-scale and mesoscale dynamics are a key determinant in each event's resultant precipitation. Very high-resolution dynamical downscaling enables a more detailed representation of extreme precipitation events and their relationship to their surrounding environments with fewer parameterization-based uncertainties and provides a framework for diagnosing climate model errors.

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Janice L. Bytheway, Mimi Hughes, Kelly Mahoney, and Rob Cifelli

Abstract

The Bay Area of California and surrounding region receives much of its annual precipitation during the October–March wet season, when atmospheric river events bring periods of heavy rain that challenge water managers and may exceed the capacity of storm sewer systems. The complex terrain of this region further complicates the situation, with terrain interactions that are not currently captured in most operational forecast models and inadequate precipitation measurements to capture the large variability throughout the area. To improve monitoring and prediction of these events at spatial and temporal resolutions of interest to area water managers, the Bay Area Advanced Quantitative Precipitation Information project was developed. To quantify improvements in forecast precipitation, model validation studies require a reference dataset to compare against. In this paper we examine 10 gridded, high-resolution (≤10 km, hourly) precipitation estimates to assess the uncertainty of high-resolution quantitative precipitation estimates (QPE) in areas of complex terrain. The products were linearly interpolated to 3-km grid spacing, which is the resolution of the operational forecast model to be validated. Substantial differences exist between the various products at accumulation periods ranging from hourly to annual, with standard deviations among the products exceeding 100% of the mean. While the products seem to agree fairly well on the timing of precipitation, intensity estimates differ, sometimes by an order of magnitude. The results highlight both the need for additional observations and the need to account for uncertainty in the reference dataset when validating forecasts in this area.

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