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A. Kumar, M. Hoerling, M. Ji, A. Leetmaa, and P. Sardeshmukh

Abstract

This study investigates the predictability of seasonal mean circulation anomalies associated purely with the influence of anomalous sea surface temperatures (SSTs). Within this framework, seasonal mean atmospheric anomalies on a case by case basis are understood to consist of a potentially predictable boundary-forced component and an unpredictable naturally varying component. The predictive capability of an atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) for seasonal timescales should therefore be assessed in terms of the average skill over many cases, since it is only then that the boundary-forced predictable signal in observations can be identified.

To illustrate, experiments for 1982–1993 using two versions of an AGCM are presented. The models, referred to here as MRF8 and MRF9, differ in the parameterization of a single process. Each model is run nine times for the 12 years using different initial conditions but identical observed global SSTS. The nine-member ensemble mean anomalies for each season in 1982–1993 are compared with observed anomalies over the Pacific–North American (PNA) region.

Several different measures of the impact of SST boundary forcing on the extratropical flow suggest that MRF9 is a better model for seasonal prediction purposes. The two AGCMs have substantially different zonal-mean climatologies in the Tropics and subtropics, with MRF9 significantly better. It is argued that the improved mean flow in MRF9 enhances its midlatitude sensitivity to tropical forcing. The results highlight the importance of continued GCM development and give reason to hope that an even better model would lead to further improved forecasts of seasonal anomalies over the PNA sector.

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Ping Chen, Martin P. Hoerling, and Randall M. Dole

Abstract

The origin of the Northern Hemisphere summer subtropical anticyclones is investigated using a linear quasigeostrophic model. It is found that the broad features in the model solutions forced by realistic heating fields acting on observed zonal flows agree well with those in the observations. The realistic features of the model solutions include the subtropical continental lows and oceanic highs in the lower troposphere, and continental ridges and midoceanic troughs in the upper troposphere. The forced responses are largest near the surface and the tropopause with a vertical node around 500 hPa as observed.

The results indicate that the model stationary waves owe their existence largely to the Asian heat source. The authors thus propose that the observed low-level subtropical anticyclones over the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans be interpreted as a remote response of Rossby waves forced by the large-scale heat sources over Asia. The results support the existing theory that the observed low-level cyclones and upper-level anticyclones over Asia and North America are a local response to monsoonal latent heat release in the midtroposphere. The sensitivity of model solutions to the basic state is discussed, emphasizing the effects of the meridional and vertical shear of the zonal flow on the structure of the stationary waves.

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Shuanglin Li, Martin P. Hoerling, Shiling Peng, and Klaus M. Weickmann

Abstract

The leading pattern of Northern Hemisphere winter height variability exhibits an annular structure, one related to tropical west Pacific heating. To explore whether this pattern can be excited by tropical Pacific SST variations, an atmospheric general circulation model coupled to a slab mixed layer ocean is employed. Ensemble experiments with an idealized SST anomaly centered at different longitudes on the equator are conducted. The results reveal two different response patterns—a hemispheric pattern projecting on the annular mode and a meridionally arched pattern confined to the Pacific–North American sector, induced by the SST anomaly in the west and the east Pacific, respectively. Extratropical air–sea coupling enhances the annular component of response to the tropical west Pacific SST anomalies.

A diagnosis based on linear dynamical models suggests that the two responses are primarily maintained by transient eddy forcing. In both cases, the model transient eddy forcing response has a maximum near the exit of the Pacific jet, but with a different meridional position relative to the upper-level jet. The emergence of an annular response is found to be very sensitive to whether transient eddy forcing anomalies occur within the axis of the jet core. For forcing within the jet core, energy propagates poleward and downstream, inducing an annular response. For forcing away from the jet core, energy propagates equatorward and downstream, inducing a trapped regional response. The selection of an annular versus a regionally confined tropospheric response is thus postulated to depend on how the storm tracks respond. Tropical west Pacific SST forcing is particularly effective in exciting the required storm-track response from which a hemisphere-wide teleconnection structure emerges.

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X. Quan, M. Hoerling, J. Whitaker, G. Bates, and T. Xu

Abstract

In this study the authors diagnose the sources for the contiguous U.S. seasonal forecast skill that are related to sea surface temperature (SST) variations using a combination of dynamical and empirical methods. The dynamical methods include ensemble simulations with four atmospheric general circulation models (AGCMs) forced by observed monthly global SSTs from 1950 to 1999, and ensemble AGCM experiments forced by idealized SST anomalies. The empirical methods involve a suite of reductions of the AGCM simulations. These include uni- and multivariate regression models that encapsulate the simultaneous and one-season lag linear connections between seasonal mean tropical SST anomalies and U.S. precipitation and surface air temperature. Nearly all of the AGCM skill in U.S. precipitation and surface air temperature, arising from global SST influences, can be explained by a single degree of freedom in the tropical SST field—that associated with the linear atmospheric signal of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The results support previous findings regarding the preeminence of ENSO as a U.S. skill source. The diagnostic methods used here exposed another skill source that appeared to be of non-ENSO origins. In late autumn, when the AGCM simulation skill of U.S. temperatures peaked in absolute value and in spatial coverage, the majority of that originated from SST variability in the subtropical west Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. Hindcast experiments were performed for 1950–99 that revealed most of the simulation skill of the U.S. seasonal climate to be recoverable at one-season lag. The skill attributable to the AGCMs was shown to achieve parity with that attributable to empirical models derived purely from observational data. The diagnostics promote the interpretation that only limited advances in U.S. seasonal prediction skill should be expected from methods seeking to capitalize on sea surface predictors alone, and that advances that may occur in future decades could be readily masked by inherent multidecadal fluctuations in skill of coupled ocean–atmosphere systems.

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M. Hoerling, J. Barsugli, B. Livneh, J. Eischeid, X. Quan, and A. Badger

Abstract

Upper Colorado River basin streamflow has declined by roughly 20% over the last century of the instrumental period, based on estimates of naturalized flow above Lees Ferry. Here we assess factors causing the decline and evaluate the premise that rising surface temperatures have been mostly responsible. We use an event attribution framework involving parallel sets of global model experiments with and without climate change drivers. We demonstrate that climate change forcing has acted to reduce Upper Colorado River basin streamflow during this period by about 10% (with uncertainty range of 6%–14% reductions). The magnitude of the observed flow decline is found to be inconsistent with natural variability alone, and approximately one-half of the observed flow decline is judged to have resulted from long-term climate change. Each of three different global models used herein indicates that climate change forcing during the last century has acted to increase surface temperature (~+1.2°C) and decrease precipitation (~−3%). Using large ensemble methods, we diagnose the separate effects of temperature and precipitation changes on Upper Colorado River streamflow. Precipitation change is found to be the most consequential factor owing to its amplified impact on flow resulting from precipitation elasticity (percent change in streamflow per percent change in precipitation) of ~2. We confirm that warming has also driven streamflow declines, as inferred from empirical studies, although operating as a secondary factor. Our finding of a modest −2.5% °C−1 temperature sensitivity, on the basis of our best model-derived estimate, indicates that only about one-third of the attributable climate change signal in Colorado River decline resulted from warming, whereas about two-thirds resulted from precipitation decline.

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M. Hoerling, J. Eischeid, A. Kumar, R. Leung, A. Mariotti, K. Mo, S. Schubert, and R. Seager

Central Great Plains precipitation deficits during May–August 2012 were the most severe since at least 1895, eclipsing the Dust Bowl summers of 1934 and 1936. Drought developed suddenly in May, following near-normal precipitation during winter and early spring. Its proximate causes were a reduction in atmospheric moisture transport into the Great Plains from the Gulf of Mexico. Processes that generally provide air mass lift and condensation were mostly absent, including a lack of frontal cyclones in late spring followed by suppressed deep convection in the summer owing to large-scale subsidence and atmospheric stabilization.

Seasonal forecasts did not predict the summer 2012 central Great Plains drought development, which therefore arrived without early warning. Climate simulations and empirical analysis suggest that ocean surface temperatures together with changes in greenhouse gases did not induce a substantial reduction in sum mertime precipitation over the central Great Plains during 2012. Yet, diagnosis of the retrospective climate simulations also reveals a regime shift toward warmer and drier summertime Great Plains conditions during the recent decade, most probably due to natural decadal variability. As a consequence, the probability of the severe summer Great Plains drought occurring may have increased in the last decade compared to the 1980s and 1990s, and the so-called tail risk for severe drought may have been heightened in summer 2012. Such an extreme drought event was nonetheless still found to be a rare occurrence within the spread of 2012 climate model simulations. The implications of this study's findings for U.S. seasonal drought forecasting are discussed.

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Shuanglin Li, Walter A. Robinson, Martin P. Hoerling, and Klaus M. Weickmann

Abstract

Previous atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM) experiments revealed that atmospheric responses to a tropical Atlantic sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) were asymmetric with respect to the sign of the SSTA. A positive SSTA produced a south–north dipole in geopotential heights, much like the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), while a negative SSTA yielded an eastward-propagating wave train, with the northern lobe of the NAO absent.

Here these height responses are decomposed into components that are symmetric or antisymmetric with respect to the sign of the SSTA. The symmetric, or notionally linear, component is a nearly south–north dipole projecting on the NAO, while the antisymmetric, or notionally nonlinear, component is a different dipole. Experiments with a diagnostic linear baroclinic model (LBM) suggest that both components are maintained primarily by transient-eddy forcing. Dynamical mechanisms for the formation of the two components are explored using the LBM and a nonlinear barotropic vorticity equation model (BVM). Transient-eddy feedback is sufficient to explain the linear response. The NAO-like linear response occurs when the initial heating induces transient-eddy forcing in the exit of the Atlantic jet. The structure of the background absolute vorticity in this region is such that this transient-eddy forcing induces a nearly north–south dipole in anomalous geopotential heights. When the nonlinear self-interaction of this transient-induced low-frequency perturbation is included in the BVM, the dipole axis tilts to the east or west, resulting in a response that is nonlinear about the sign of the forcing.

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Brant Liebmann, Ileana Bladé, Chris Funk, Dave Allured, Xiao-Wei Quan, Martin Hoerling, Andrew Hoell, Pete Peterson, and Wassila M. Thiaw

Abstract

The 1981–2014 climatology and variability of the March–May eastern Horn of Africa boreal spring wet season are examined using precipitation, upper- and lower-level winds, low-level specific humidity, and convective available potential energy (CAPE), with the aim of better understanding the establishment of the wet season and the cause of the recent observed decline. At 850 mb, the development of the wet season is characterized by increasing specific humidity and winds that veer from northeasterly in February to southerly in June and advect moisture into the region, in agreement with an earlier study. Equally important, however, is a substantial weakening of the 200-mb climatological easterly winds in March. Likewise, the shutdown of the wet season coincides with the return of strong easterly winds in June. Similar changes are seen in the daily evolution of specific humidity and 200-mb wind when composited relative to the interannual wet season onset and end, with the easterlies decreasing (increasing) several days prior to the start (end) of the wet season. The 1981–2014 decrease in March–May precipitation has also coincided with an increase in 200-mb easterly winds, with no attendant change in specific humidity, leading to the conclusion that, while high values of specific humidity are an important ingredient of the wet season, the recent observed precipitation decline has resulted mostly from a strengthening of the 200-mb easterlies. This change in the easterly winds appears to be related to an increase in convection over the Indonesian region and in the associated outflow from that enhanced heat source.

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Martin P. Hoerling, Jon K. Eischeid, Xiao-Wei Quan, Henry F. Diaz, Robert S. Webb, Randall M. Dole, and David R. Easterling

Abstract

How Great Plains climate will respond under global warming continues to be a key unresolved question. There has been, for instance, considerable speculation that the Great Plains is embarking upon a period of increasing drought frequency and intensity that will lead to a semipermanent Dust Bowl in the coming decades. This view draws on a single line of inference of how climate change may affect surface water balance based on sensitivity of the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI). A different view foresees a more modest climate change impact on Great Plains surface moisture balances. This draws on direct lines of analysis using land surface models to predict runoff and soil moisture, the results of which do not reveal an ominous fate for the Great Plains. The authors’ study presents a parallel diagnosis of projected changes in drought as inferred from PDSI and soil moisture indicators in order to understand causes for such a disparity and to shed light on the uncertainties. PDSI is shown to be an excellent proxy indicator for Great Plains soil moisture in the twentieth century; however, its suitability breaks down in the twenty-first century, with the PDSI severely overstating surface water imbalances and implied agricultural stresses. Several lines of evidence and physical considerations indicate that simplifying assumptions regarding temperature effects on water balances, especially concerning evapotranspiration in Palmer’s formulation, compromise its suitability as drought indicator in a warming climate. The authors conclude that projections of acute and chronic PDSI decline in the twenty-first century are likely an exaggerated indicator for future Great Plains drought severity.

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Brant Liebmann, Martin P. Hoerling, Chris Funk, Ileana Bladé, Randall M. Dole, Dave Allured, Xiaowei Quan, Philip Pegion, and Jon K. Eischeid

Abstract

Observations and sea surface temperature (SST)-forced ECHAM5 simulations are examined to study the seasonal cycle of eastern Africa rainfall and its SST sensitivity during 1979–2012, focusing on interannual variability and trends. The eastern Horn is drier than the rest of equatorial Africa, with two distinct wet seasons, and whereas the October–December wet season has become wetter, the March–May season has become drier.

The climatological rainfall in simulations driven by observed SSTs captures this bimodal regime. The simulated trends also qualitatively reproduce the opposite-sign changes in the two rainy seasons, suggesting that SST forcing has played an important role in the observed changes. The consistency between the sign of 1979–2012 trends and interannual SST–precipitation correlations is exploited to identify the most likely locations of SST forcing of precipitation trends in the model, and conceivably also in nature. Results indicate that the observed March–May drying since 1979 is due to sensitivity to an increased zonal gradient in SST between Indonesia and the central Pacific. In contrast, the October–December precipitation increase is mostly due to western Indian Ocean warming.

The recent upward trend in the October–December wet season is rather weak, however, and its statistical significance is compromised by strong year-to-year fluctuations. October–December eastern Horn rain variability is strongly associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean dipole phenomena on interannual scales, in both model and observations. The interannual October–December correlation between the ensemble-average and observed Horn rainfall 0.87. By comparison, interannual March–May Horn precipitation is only weakly constrained by SST anomalies.

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