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L. R. Leung and S. J. Ghan

Abstract

Global climate change due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases has stimulated numerous studies and discussions about its possible impacts on water resources. Climate scenarios generated by climate models at spatial resolutions ranging from about 50 km to 400 km may not provide enough spatial specificity for use in impact assessment. In Parts I and II of this paper, the spatial specificity issue is addressed by examining what information on mesoscale and small-scale spatial features can be gained by using a regional climate model with a subgrid parameterization of orographic precipitation and land surface cover, driven by a general circulation model. Numerical experiments have been performed to simulate the present-day climatology and the climate conditions corresponding to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration. This paper describes and contrasts the large-scale and mesoscale features of the greenhouse warming climate signals simulated by the general circulation model and regional climate model over the Pacific Northwest.

Results indicate that changes in the large-scale circulation exhibit strong seasonal variability. There is an average warming of about 2°C, and precipitation generally increases over the Pacific Northwest and decreases over California. The precipitation signal over the Pacific Northwest is only statistically significant during spring, when both the change in the large-scale circulation and increase in water vapor enhance the moisture convergence toward the north Pacific coast. The combined effects of surface temperature and precipitation changes are such that snow cover is reduced by up to 50% on average, causing large changes in the seasonal runoff. This paper also describes the high spatial resolution (1.5 km) climate signals simulated by the regional climate model. Reductions in snow cover of 50%–90% are found in areas near the snow line of the control simulation. Analyses of the variations of the climate signals with surface elevation ranging from sea level to 4000 m over two mountain ranges in the Pacific Northwest show that because of changes in the alitude of the freezing level, strong elevation dependency is found in the surface temperature, rainfall, snowfall, snow cover, and runoff signals.

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L. R. Leung and S. J. Ghan

Abstract

Previous development of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s regional climate model has focused on representing orographic precipitation using a subgrid parameterization where subgrid variations of surface elevation are aggregated to a limited number of elevation classes. An airflow model and a thermodynamic model are used to parameterize the orographic uplift/descent as air parcels cross over mountain barriers or valleys. This paper describes further testing and evaluation of this subgrid parameterization. Building upon this modeling framework, a subgrid vegetation scheme has been developed based on statistical relationships between surface elevation and vegetation. By analyzing high-resolution elevation and vegetation data, a dominant land cover is defined for each elevation band of each model grid cell to account for the subgrid heterogeneity in vegetation. When larger lakes are present, they are distinguished from land within elevation bands and a lake model is used to simulate the thermodynamic properties. The use of the high-resolution vegetation data and the subgrid vegetation scheme has resulted in an improvement in the model’s representation of surface cover over the western United States. Simulation using the new vegetation scheme yields a 1°C cooling when compared with a simulation where vegetation was derived from a 30-min global vegetation dataset without subgrid vegetation treatment; this cooling helps to reduce the warm bias previously found in the regional climate model. A 3-yr simulation with the subgrid parameterization in the climate model is compared with observations.

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L. R. Leung and S. J. Ghan

Abstract

A model nesting approach has been used to simulate the regional climate over the Pacific Northwest. The present-day global climatology is first simulated using the NCAR Community Climate Model (CCM3) driven by observed sea surface temperature and sea ice distribution at T42 (2.8°) resolution. This large-scale simulation is used to provide lateral boundary conditions for driving the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Regional Climate Model (RCM). One notable feature of the RCM is the use of subgrid parameterizations of orographic precipitation and vegetation cover, in which subgrid variations of surface elevation and vegetation are aggregated to a limited number of elevation–vegetation classes. An airflow model and a thermodynamic model are used to parameterize the orographic uplift/descent as air parcels cross over mountain barriers or valleys.

The 7-yr climatologies as simulated by CCM3 and RCM are evaluated and compared in terms of large-scale spatial patterns and regional means. Biases are found in the simulation of large-scale circulations, which also affect the regional model simulation. Therefore, the regional simulation is not very different from the CCM3 simulation in terms of large-scale features. However, the regional model greatly improves the simulation of precipitation, surface temperature, and snow cover at the local scales. This is shown by improvements in the spatial correlation between the observations and simulations. The RCM simulation is further evaluated using station observations of surface temperature and precipitation to compare the simulated and observed relationships between surface temperature–precipitation and altitude. The model is found to correctly capture the surface temperature–precipitation variations as functions of surface topography over different mountain ranges, and under different climate regimes.

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Karthik Balaguru, Gregory R. Foltz, L. Ruby Leung, Samson M. Hagos, and David R. Judi

Abstract

Sea surface temperature (SST) and tropical cyclone heat potential (TCHP) are metrics used to incorporate the ocean’s influence on hurricane intensification into the National Hurricane Center’s Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme (SHIPS). While both SST and TCHP serve as useful measures of the upper-ocean heat content, they do not accurately represent ocean stratification effects. Here, it is shown that replacing SST within the SHIPS framework with a dynamic temperature T dy, which accounts for the oceanic negative feedback to the hurricane’s intensity arising from storm-induced vertical mixing and sea surface cooling, improves the model performance. While the model with SST and TCHP explains about 41% of the variance in 36-h intensity changes, replacing SST with T dy increases the variance explained to nearly 44%. These results suggest that representation of the oceanic feedback, even through relatively simple formulations such as T dy, may improve the performance of statistical hurricane intensity prediction models such as SHIPS.

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Karthik Balaguru, Gregory R. Foltz, L. Ruby Leung, John Kaplan, Wenwei Xu, Nicolas Reul, and Bertrand Chapron

Abstract

Tropical cyclone (TC) rapid intensification (RI) is difficult to predict and poses a formidable threat to coastal populations. A warm upper ocean is well known to favor RI, but the role of ocean salinity is less clear. This study shows a strong inverse relationship between salinity and TC RI in the eastern Caribbean and western tropical Atlantic due to near-surface freshening from the Amazon–Orinoco River system. In this region, rapidly intensifying TCs induce a much stronger surface enthalpy flux compared to more weakly intensifying storms, in part due to a reduction in SST cooling caused by salinity stratification. This reduction has a noticeable positive impact on TCs undergoing RI, but the impact of salinity on more weakly intensifying storms is insignificant. These statistical results are confirmed through experiments with an ocean mixed layer model, which show that the salinity-induced reduction in SST cold wakes increases significantly as the storm’s intensification rate increases. Currently, operational statistical–dynamical RI models do not use salinity as a predictor. Through experiments with a statistical RI prediction scheme, it is found that the inclusion of surface salinity significantly improves the RI detection skill, offering promise for improved operational RI prediction. Satellite surface salinity may be valuable for this purpose, given its global coverage and availability in near–real time.

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N. Goldenson, L. R. Leung, C. M. Bitz, and E. Blanchard-Wrigglesworth

Abstract

In the coastal mountains of western North America, most extreme precipitation is associated with atmospheric rivers (ARs), narrow bands of moisture originating in the tropics. Here we quantify how interannual variability in atmospheric rivers influences snowpack in the western United States in observations and a model. We simulate the historical climate with the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) with physics from the Community Atmosphere Model, version 5 [CAM5 (MPAS-CAM5)], using prescribed sea surface temperatures. In the global variable-resolution domain, regional refinement (at ~30 km) is applied to our region of interest and upwind over the northeast Pacific. To better characterize internal variability, we conduct simulations with three ensemble members over 30 years of the historical period. In the Cascade Range, with some exceptions, winters with more atmospheric river days are associated with less snowpack. In California’s Sierra Nevada, winters with more ARs are associated with greater snowpack. The slope of the linear regression of observed snow water equivalent (SWE) on reanalysis-based AR count has the same sign as that arrived at using the model, but is statistically significant in observations only for California. In spring, internal variance plays an important role in determining whether atmospheric river days appear to be associated with greater or less snowpack. The cumulative (winter through spring) number of atmospheric river days, on the other hand, has a relationship with spring snowpack, which is consistent across ensemble members. Thus, the impact of atmospheric rivers on winter snowpack has a greater influence on spring snowpack than spring atmospheric rivers in the model for both regions and in California consistently in observations.

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Karthik Balaguru, Gregory R. Foltz, L. Ruby Leung, John Kaplan, Wenwei Xu, Nicolas Reul, and Bertrand Chapron
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Fengfei Song, Zhe Feng, L. Ruby Leung, Robert A. Houze Jr, Jingyu Wang, Joseph Hardin, and Cameron R. Homeyer

Abstract

Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are frequently observed over the U.S. Great Plains during boreal spring and summer. Here, four types of synoptically favorable environments for spring MCSs and two types each of synoptically favorable and unfavorable environments for summer MCSs are identified using self-organizing maps (SOMs) with inputs from observational data. During spring, frontal systems providing a lifting mechanism and an enhanced Great Plains low-level jet (GPLLJ) providing anomalous moisture are important features identified by SOM analysis for creating favorable dynamical and thermodynamic environments for MCS development. During summer, the composite MCS environment shows small positive convective available potential energy (CAPE) and convective inhibition (CIN) anomalies, which are in stark contrast with the large positive CAPE and negative CIN anomalies in spring. This contrast suggests that summer convection may occur even with weak large-scale dynamical and thermodynamic perturbations so MCSs may be inherently less predictable in summer. The two synoptically favorable environments identified in summer have frontal characteristics and an enhanced GPLLJ, but both shift north compared to spring. The two synoptically unfavorable environments feature enhanced upper-level ridges, but differ in the strength of the GPLLJ. In both seasons, MCS precipitation amount, area, and rate are much larger in the frontal-related MCSs than in nonfrontal MCSs. A large-scale index constructed using pattern correlation between large-scale environments and the synoptically favorable SOM types is found to be skillful for estimating MCS number, precipitation rate, and area in spring, but its explanatory power decreases significantly in summer. The low predictability of summer MCSs deserves further investigation in the future.

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P. B. Duffy, R. W. Arritt, J. Coquard, W. Gutowski, J. Han, J. Iorio, J. Kim, L.-R. Leung, J. Roads, and E. Zeledon

Abstract

In this paper, the authors analyze simulations of present and future climates in the western United States performed with four regional climate models (RCMs) nested within two global ocean–atmosphere climate models. The primary goal here is to assess the range of regional climate responses to increased greenhouse gases in available RCM simulations. The four RCMs used different geographical domains, different increased greenhouse gas scenarios for future-climate simulations, and (in some cases) different lateral boundary conditions. For simulations of the present climate, RCM results are compared to observations and to results of the GCM that provided lateral boundary conditions to the RCM. For future-climate (increased greenhouse gas) simulations, RCM results are compared to each other and to results of the driving GCMs. When results are spatially averaged over the western United States, it is found that the results of each RCM closely follow those of the driving GCM in the same region in both present and future climates. This is true even though the study area is in some cases a small fraction of the RCM domain. Precipitation responses predicted by the RCMs in many regions are not statistically significant compared to interannual variability. Where the predicted precipitation responses are statistically significant, they are positive. The models agree that near-surface temperatures will increase, but do not agree on the spatial pattern of this increase. The four RCMs produce very different estimates of water content of snow in the present climate, and of the change in this water content in response to increased greenhouse gases.

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Zhe Feng, Robert A. Houze Jr., L. Ruby Leung, Fengfei Song, Joseph C. Hardin, Jingyu Wang, William I. Gustafson Jr., and Cameron R. Homeyer

ABSTRACT

The spatiotemporal variability and three-dimensional structures of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) east of the U.S. Rocky Mountains and their large-scale environments are characterized across all seasons using 13 years of high-resolution radar and satellite observations. Long-lived and intense MCSs account for over 50% of warm season precipitation in the Great Plains and over 40% of cold season precipitation in the southeast. The Great Plains has the strongest MCS seasonal cycle peaking in May–June, whereas in the U.S. southeast MCSs occur year-round. Distinctly different large-scale environments across the seasons have significant impacts on the structure of MCSs. Spring and fall MCSs commonly initiate under strong baroclinic forcing and favorable thermodynamic environments. MCS genesis frequently occurs in the Great Plains near sunset, although convection is not always surface based. Spring MCSs feature both large and deep convection, with a large stratiform rain area and high volume of rainfall. In contrast, summer MCSs often initiate under weak baroclinic forcing, featuring a high pressure ridge with weak low-level convergence acting on the warm, humid air associated with the low-level jet. MCS genesis concentrates east of the Rocky Mountain Front Range and near the southeast coast in the afternoon. The strongest MCS diurnal cycle amplitude extends from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Summer MCSs have the largest and deepest convective features, the smallest stratiform rain area, and the lowest rainfall volume. Last, winter MCSs are characterized by the strongest baroclinic forcing and the largest MCS precipitation features over the southeast. Implications of the findings for climate modeling are discussed.

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