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Kelly T. Redmond
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Roger S. Pulwarty and Kelly T. Redmond

The Pacific Northwest is dependent on the vast and complex Columbia River system for power production, irrigation, navigation, flood control, recreation, municipal and industrial water supplies, and fish and wildlife habitat. In recent years Pacific salmon populations in this region, a highly valued cultural and economic resource, have declined precipitously. Since 1980, regional entities have embarked on the largest effort at ecosystem management undertaken to date in the United States, primarily aimed at balancing hydropower demands with salmon restoration activities. It has become increasingly clear that climatically driven fluctuations in the freshwater and marine environments occupied by these fish are an important influence on population variability. It is also clear that there are significant prospects of climate predictability that may prove advantageous in managing the water resources shared by the long cast of regional interests. The main thrusts of this study are 1) to describe the climate and management environments of the Columbia River basin, 2) to assess the present degree of use and benefits of available climate information, 3) to identify new roles and applications made possible by recent advances in climate forecasting, and 4) to understand, from the point of view of present and potential users in specific contexts of salmon management, what information might be needed, for what uses, and when, where, and how it should be provided. Interviews were carried out with 32 individuals in 19 organizations involved in salmon management decisions. Primary needs were in forecasting runoff volume and timing, river transit times, and stream temperatures, as much as a year or more in advance. Most respondents desired an accuracy of 75% for a seasonal forecast. Despite the significant influence of precipitation and its subsequent hydrologic impacts on the regional economy, no specific use of the present climate forecasts was uncovered. Understanding the limitations to information use forms a major component of this study. The complexity of the management environment, the lack of well-defined linkages among potential users and forecasters, and the lack of supplementary background information relating to the forecasts pose substantial barriers to future use of forecasts. Recommendations to address these problems are offered. The use of climate information and forecasts to reduce the uncertainty inherent in managing large systems for diverse needs bears significant promise. The Pacific Northwest is dependent on the vast and complex Columbia River system for power production, irrigation, navigation, flood control, recreation, municipal and industrial water supplies, and fish and wildlife habitat. In recent years Pacific salmon populations in this region, a highly valued cultural and economic resource, have declined precipitously. Since 1980, regional entities have embarked on the largest effort at ecosystem management undertaken to date in the United States, primarily aimed at balancing hydropower demands with salmon restoration activities. It has become increasingly clear that climatically driven fluctuations in the freshwater and marine environments occupied by these fish are an important influence on population variability. It is also clear that there are significant prospects of climate predictability that may prove advantageous in managing the water resources shared by the long cast of regional interests. The main thrusts of this study are 1) to describe the climate and management environments of the Columbia River basin, 2) to assess the present degree of use and benefits of available climate information, 3) to identify new roles and applications made possible by recent advances in climate forecasting, and 4) to understand, from the point of view of present and potential users in specific contexts of salmon management, what information might be needed, for what uses, and when, where, and how it should be provided. Interviews were carried out with 32 individuals in 19 organizations involved in salmon management decisions. Primary needs were in forecasting runoff volume and timing, river transit times, and stream temperatures, as much as a year or more in advance. Most respondents desired an accuracy of 75% for a seasonal forecast. Despite the significant influence of precipitation and its subsequent hydrologic impacts on the regional economy, no specific use of the present climate forecasts was uncovered. Understanding the limitations to information use forms a major component of this study. The complexity of the management environment, the lack of well-defined linkages among potential users and forecasters, and the lack of supplementary background information relating to the forecasts pose substantial barriers to future use of forecasts. Recommendations to address these problems are offered. The use of climate information and forecasts to reduce the uncertainty inherent in managing large systems for diverse needs bears significant promise.

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Nina S. Oakley and Kelly T. Redmond

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The northeastern Pacific Ocean is a preferential location for the formation of closed low pressure systems. These slow-moving, quasi-barotropic systems influence vertical stability and sustain a moist environment, giving them the potential to produce or affect sustained precipitation episodes along the west coast of the United States. They can remain motionless or change direction and speed more than once and thus often pose difficult forecast challenges. This study creates an objective climatological description of 500-hPa closed lows to assess their impacts on precipitation in the western United States and to explore interannual variability and preferred tracks. Geopotential height at 500 hPa from the NCEP–NCAR global reanalysis dataset was used at 6-h and 2.5° × 2.5° resolution for the period 1948–2011. Closed lows displayed seasonality and preferential durations. Time series for seasonal and annual event counts were found to exhibit strong interannual variability. Composites of the tracks of landfalling closed lows revealed preferential tracks as the features move inland over the western United States. Correlations of seasonal event totals for closed lows with ENSO indices, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern suggested an above-average number of events during the warm phase of ENSO and positive PDO and PNA phases. Precipitation at 30 U.S. Cooperative Observer stations was attributed to closed-low events, suggesting 20%–60% of annual precipitation along the West Coast may be associated with closed lows.

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John T. Abatzoglou, Kelly T. Redmond, and Laura M. Edwards

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A novel approach is presented to objectively identify regional patterns of climate variability within the state of California using principal component analysis on monthly precipitation and temperature data from a network of 195 climate stations statewide and an ancillary gridded database. The confluence of large-scale circulation patterns and the complex geography of the state result in 11 regional modes of climate variability within the state. A comparison between the station and gridded analyses reveals that finescale spatial resolution is needed to adequately capture regional modes in complex orographic and coastal settings. Objectively identified regions can be employed not only in tracking regional climate signatures, but also in improving the understanding of mechanisms behind regional climate variability and climate change. The analysis has been incorporated into an operational tool called the California Climate Tracker.

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John T. Abatzoglou, Daniel J. McEvoy, and Kelly T. Redmond
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Michael J. Janis, Kenneth G. Hubbard, and Kelly T. Redmond

Abstract

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is establishing the U.S. Climate Reference Network (CRN) to improve the capacity for observing climatic change and variability. A goal of this network is to provide homogeneous observations of temperature and precipitation from benchmark stations that can be coupled with historical observations for detection and attribution of climatic change. The purpose of this study was to estimate the number and distribution of U.S. CRN observing sites. The analysis was conducted by forming hypothetical networks from representative subsamples of stations in an existing higher-density baseline network. The objective was to have the differences between the annual temperature and precipitation trends computed from reduced-size networks and the full-size networks not greater than predetermined error limits. This analysis was performed on a grid cell basis to incorporate the expectation that a greater station density would be required to achieve the monitoring goals in areas with greater spatial gradients in trends. Monte Carlo resampling techniques were applied to stations within 2.5° latitude × 3.5° longitude grid cells to successively lower the resolution compared to that in the reference or baseline network. Differences between 30-yr trends from lower-resolution networks and full-resolution networks were generated for each grid cell. Grid cell densities were determined separately for temperature and precipitation trends. In practice densities can be derived for any parameter and monitoring goal. A network of 327 stations for the contiguous United States satisfied a combined temperature-trend goal of 0.10°C decade−1 and a precipitation-trend goal of 2.0% of median precipitation per decade.

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Daniel R. Cayan, Kelly T. Redmond, and Laurence G. Riddle

Abstract

Frequency distributions of daily precipitation in winter and daily stream flow from late winter to early summer, at several hundred sites in the western United States, exhibit strong and systematic responses to the two phases of ENSO. Most of the stream flows considered are driven by snowmelt. The Southern Oscillation index (SOI) is used as the ENSO phase indicator. Both modest (median) and larger (90th percentile) events were considered. In years with negative SOI values (El Niño), days with high daily precipitation and stream flow are more frequent than average over the Southwest and less frequent over the Northwest. During years with positive SOI values (La Niña), a nearly opposite pattern is seen. A more pronounced increase is seen in the number of days exceeding climatological 90th percentile values than in the number exceeding climatological 50th percentile values, for both precipitation and stream flow. Stream flow responses to ENSO extremes are accentuated over precipitation responses. Evidence suggests that the mechanism for this amplification involves ENSO-phase differences in the persistence and duration of wet episodes, affecting the efficiency of the process by which precipitation is converted to runoff. The SOI leads the precipitation events by several months, and hydrologic lags (mostly through snowmelt) delay the stream flow response by several more months. The combined 6–12-month predictive aspect of this relationship should be of significant benefit in responding to flood (or drought) risk and in improving overall water management in the western states.

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Toward Regional Climate Services

The Role of NOAA's Regional Climate Centers

Arthur T. DeGaetano, Timothy J. Brown, Steven D. Hilberg, Kelly Redmond, Kevin Robbins, Peter Robinson, Martha Shulski, and Marjorie McGuirk

For 25 yr, the Regional Climate Center (RCC) program has provided climate services to six regions encompassing the United States. The service provided by the RCCs has evolved through this time to become an efficient, user-driven program that exemplifies many of the components that have been cited for effective national climate services. To illustrate the RCCs' role as operational climate service providers, a brief history of the program is presented with recent examples of RCC innovations in the provision and creation of data products and decision tools, computer infrastructure, and the integration of climate data across networks. These strengths complement the missions of other federal climate service providers and regional and state-based programs, such as the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments, state climatologist programs, and National Weather Service climate services program managers and local focal points with which the RCCs actively partner.

Building on this expertise, a vision for the RCC role in climate services during the next quarter century is presented. This strategy includes five main components encompassing 1) operational linkage of an array of climate data sources with climate products, tools, and monitoring systems; 2) engagement of new and existing climate service partners to reduce the risk associated with climate impacts; 3) implementation of innovative user-driven approaches to regional and local climate services; 4) climate data stewardship; and 5) scientifically sound assessments and solutions to climate-related problems through active stakeholder collaboration and engagement. These elements will be equally applicable and important to decisions related to the historical climate record, real-time interannual climate variations, or future climate change assessment and adaptation activities.

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Kenneth E. Kunkel, Michael A. Palecki, Kenneth G. Hubbard, David A. Robinson, Kelly T. Redmond, and David R. Easterling

Abstract

There is an increasing interest in examining long-term trends in measures of snow climatology. An examination of the U.S. daily snowfall records for 1900–2004 revealed numerous apparent inconsistencies. For example, long-term snowfall trends among neighboring lake-effect stations differ greatly from insignificant to +100% century−1. Internal inconsistencies in the snow records, such as a lack of upward trends in maximum seasonal snow depth at stations with large upward trends in snowfall, point to inhomogeneities. Nationwide, the frequency of daily observations with a 10:1 snowfall-to-liquid-equivalent ratio declined from 30% in the 1930s to a current value of around 10%, a change that is clearly due to observational practice. There then must be biases in cold-season liquid-equivalent precipitation, or snowfall, or both. An empirical adjustment of snow-event, liquid-equivalent precipitation indicates that the potential biases can be statistically significant.

Examples from this study show that there are nonclimatic issues that complicate the identification of and significantly change the trends in snow variables. Thus, great care should be taken in interpretation of time series of snow-related variables from the Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) network. Furthermore, full documentation of optional practices should be required of network observers so that future users of these data can properly account for such practices.

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