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

Abstract

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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Benjamin J. Moore, Kelly M. Mahoney, Ellen M. Sukovich, Robert Cifelli, and Thomas M. Hamill

Abstract

This paper documents the characteristics of extreme precipitation events (EPEs) in the southeastern United States (SEUS) during 2002–11. The EPEs are identified by applying an object-based method to 24-h precipitation analyses from the NCEP stage-IV dataset. It is found that EPEs affected the SEUS in all months and occurred most frequently in the western portion of the SEUS during the cool season and in the eastern portion during the warm season. The EPEs associated with tropical cyclones, although less common, tended to be larger in size, more intense, and longer lived than “nontropical” EPEs. Nontropical EPEs in the warm season, relative to those in the cool season, tended to be smaller in size and typically involved more moist, conditionally unstable conditions but weaker dynamical influences. Synoptic-scale composites are constructed for nontropical EPEs stratified by the magnitude of vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT) to examine distinct scenarios for the occurrence of EPEs. The composite results indicate that “strong IVT” EPEs occur within high-amplitude flow patterns involving strong transport of moist, conditionally unstable air within the warm sector of a cyclone, whereas “weak IVT” EPEs occur within low-amplitude flow patterns featuring weak transport but very moist and conditionally unstable conditions. Finally, verification of deterministic precipitation forecasts from a reforecast dataset based on the NCEP Global Ensemble Forecast System reveals that weak-IVT EPEs were characteristically associated with lower forecast skill than strong-IVT EPEs. Based on these results, it is suggested that further research should be conducted to investigate the forecast challenges associated with EPEs in the SEUS.

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Mimi Hughes, Kelly M. Mahoney, Paul J. Neiman, Benjamin J. Moore, Michael Alexander, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

This manuscript documents numerical modeling experiments based on a January 2010 atmospheric river (AR) event that caused extreme precipitation in Arizona. The control experiment (CNTL), using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model with 3-km grid spacing, agrees well with observations. Sensitivity experiments in which 1) model grid spacing decreases sequentially from 81 to 3 km and 2) upstream terrain is elevated are used to assess the sensitivity of interior precipitation amounts and horizontal water vapor fluxes to model grid resolution and height of Baja California terrain. The drying ratio, a measure of airmass drying after passage across terrain, increases with Baja’s terrain height and decreases with coarsened grid spacing. Subsequently, precipitation across Arizona decreases as the Baja terrain height increases, although it changes little with coarsened grid spacing. Northern Baja’s drying ratio is much larger than that of southern Baja. Thus, ARs with a southerly orientation, with water vapor transports that can pass south of the higher mountains of northern Baja and then cross the Gulf of California, can produce large precipitation amounts in Arizona. Further experiments are performed using a linear model (LM) of orographic precipitation for a central-Arizona-focused subdomain. The actual incidence angle of the AR (211°) is close to the optimum angle for large region-mean precipitation. Changes in region-mean precipitation amounts are small (~6%) owing to AR angle changes; however, much larger changes in basin-mean precipitation of up to 33% occur within the range of physically plausible AR angles tested. Larger LM precipitation sensitivity is seen with the Baja-terrain-modification experiments than with AR-angle modification.

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Paul J. Neiman, F. Martin Ralph, Benjamin J. Moore, Mimi Hughes, Kelly M. Mahoney, Jason M. Cordeira, and Michael D. Dettinger

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are a dominant mechanism for generating intense wintertime precipitation along the U.S. West Coast. While studies over the past 10 years have explored the impact of ARs in, and west of, California’s Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountains, their influence on the weather across the intermountain west remains an open question. This study utilizes gridded atmospheric datasets, satellite imagery, rawinsonde soundings, a 449-MHz wind profiler and global positioning system (GPS) receiver, and operational hydrometeorological observing networks to explore the dynamics and inland impacts of a landfalling, flood-producing AR across Arizona in January 2010. Plan-view, cross-section, and back-trajectory analyses quantify the synoptic and mesoscale forcing that led to widespread precipitation across the state. The analyses show that a strong AR formed in the lower midlatitudes over the northeastern Pacific Ocean via frontogenetic processes and sea surface latent-heat fluxes but without tapping into the adjacent tropical water vapor reservoir to the south. The wind profiler, GPS, and rawinsonde observations document strong orographic forcing in a moist neutral environment within the AR that led to extreme, orographically enhanced precipitation. The AR was oriented nearly orthogonal to the Mogollon Rim, a major escarpment crossing much of central Arizona, and was positioned between the high mountain ranges of northern Mexico. High melting levels during the heaviest precipitation contributed to region-wide flooding, while the high-altitude snowpack increased substantially. The characteristics of the AR that impacted Arizona in January 2010, and the resulting heavy orographic precipitation, are comparable to those of landfalling ARs and their impacts along the west coasts of midlatitude continents.

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Keith D. Hutchison, Robert L. Mahoney, Eric F. Vermote, Thomas J. Kopp, John M. Jackson, Alain Sei, and Barbara D. Iisager

Abstract

A geometry-based approach is presented to identify cloud shadows using an automated cloud classification algorithm developed for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program. These new procedures exploit both the cloud confidence and cloud phase intermediate products generated by the Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) cloud mask (VCM) algorithm. The procedures have been tested and found to accurately detect cloud shadows in global datasets collected by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor and are applied over both land and ocean background conditions. These new procedures represent a marked departure from those used in the heritage MODIS cloud mask algorithm, which utilizes spectral signatures in an attempt to identify cloud shadows. However, they more closely follow those developed to identify cloud shadows in the MODIS Surface Reflectance (MOD09) data product. Significant differences were necessary in the implementation of the MOD09 procedures to meet NPOESS latency requirements in the VCM algorithm. In this paper, the geometry-based approach used to predict cloud shadows is presented, differences are highlighted between the heritage MOD09 algorithm and new VIIRS cloud shadow algorithm, and results are shown for both these algorithms plus cloud shadows generated by the spectral-based approach. The comparisons show that the geometry-based procedures produce cloud shadows far superior to those predicted with the spectral procedures. In addition, the new VCM procedures predict cloud shadows that agree well with those found in the MOD09 product while significantly reducing the execution time as required to meet the operational time constraints of the NPOESS system.

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Faye E. Barthold, Thomas E. Workoff, Brian A. Cosgrove, Jonathan J. Gourley, David R. Novak, and Kelly M. Mahoney

Abstract

Despite advancements in numerical modeling and the increasing prevalence of convection-allowing guidance, flash flood forecasting remains a substantial challenge. Accurate flash flood forecasts depend not only on accurate quantitative precipitation forecasts (QPFs), but also on an understanding of the corresponding hydrologic response. To advance forecast skill, innovative guidance products that blend meteorology and hydrology are needed, as well as a comprehensive verification dataset to identify areas in need of improvement.

To address these challenges, in 2013 the Hydrometeorological Testbed at the Weather Prediction Center (HMT-WPC), partnering with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), developed and hosted the inaugural Flash Flood and Intense Rainfall (FFaIR) Experiment. In its first two years, the experiment has focused on ways to combine meteorological guidance with available hydrologic information. One example of this is the creation of neighborhood flash flood guidance (FFG) exceedance probabilities, which combine QPF information from convection-allowing ensembles with flash flood guidance; these were found to provide valuable information about the flash flood threat across the contiguous United States.

Additionally, WPC has begun to address the challenge of flash flood verification by developing a verification database that incorporates observations from a variety of disparate sources in an attempt to build a comprehensive picture of flash flooding across the nation. While the development of this database represents an important step forward in the verification of flash flood forecasts, many of the other challenges identified during the experiment will require a long-term community effort in order to make notable advancements.

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Stephen D. Eckermann, Andreas Dörnbrack, Harald Flentje, Simon B. Vosper, M. J. Mahoney, T. Paul Bui, and Kenneth S. Carslaw

Abstract

The results of a multimodel forecasting effort to predict mountain wave–induced polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) for airborne science during the third Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III) Ozone Loss and Validation Experiment (SOLVE)/Third European Stratospheric Experiment on Ozone (THESEO 2000) Arctic ozone campaign are assessed. The focus is on forecasts for five flights of NASA's instrumented DC-8 research aircraft in which PSCs observed by onboard aerosol lidars were identified as wave related. Aircraft PSC measurements over northern Scandinavia on 25–27 January 2000 were accurately forecast by the mountain wave models several days in advance, permitting coordinated quasi-Lagrangian flights that measured their composition and structure in unprecedented detail. On 23 January 2000 mountain wave ice PSCs were forecast over eastern Greenland. Thick layers of wave-induced ice PSC were measured by DC-8 aerosol lidars in regions along the flight track where the forecasts predicted enhanced stratospheric mountain wave amplitudes. The data from these flights, which were planned using this forecast guidance, have substantially improved the overall understanding of PSC microphysics within mountain waves. Observations of PSCs south of the DC-8 flight track on 30 November 1999 are consistent with forecasts of mountain wave–induced ice clouds over southern Scandinavia, and are validated locally using radiosonde data. On the remaining two flights wavelike PSCs were reported in regions where no mountain wave PSCs were forecast. For 10 December 1999, it is shown that locally generated mountain waves could not have propagated into the stratosphere where the PSCs were observed, confirming conclusions of other recent studies. For the PSC observed on 14 January 2000 over northern Greenland, recent work indicates that nonorographic gravity waves radiated from the jet stream produced this PSC, confirming the original forecast of no mountain wave influence. This forecast is validated further by comparing with a nearby ER-2 flight segment to the south of the DC-8, which intercepted and measured local stratospheric mountain waves with properties similar to those predicted. In total, the original forecast guidance proves to be consistent with PSC data acquired from all five of these DC-8 flights. The work discussed herein highlights areas where improvements can be made in future wave PSC forecasting campaigns, such as use of anelastic rather than Boussinesq linearized gridpoint models and a need to forecast stratospheric gravity waves from sources other than mountains.

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Nasa's Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes Experiment

Investigating Tropical Cyclogenesis and Hurricane Intensity Change

J. Halverson, M. Black, S. Braun, D. Cecil, M. Goodman, A. Heymsfield, G . Heymsfield, R. Hood, T. Krishnamurti, G. McFarquhar, M. J. Mahoney, J. Molinari, R. Rogers, J. Turk, C. Velden, D.-L. Zhang, E. Zipser, and R. Kakar

In July 2005, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration investigated tropical cyclogenesis, hurricane structure, and intensity change in the eastern North Pacific and western Atlantic using its ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft. The campaign, called the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) experiment, was conducted in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Hurricane Research Division's Intensity Forecasting Experiment. A number of in situ and remote sensor datasets were collected inside and above four tropical cyclones representing a broad spectrum of tropical cyclone intensity and development in diverse environments. While the TCSP datasets directly address several key hypotheses governing tropical cyclone formation, including the role of vertical wind shear, dynamics of convective bursts, and upscale growth of the initial vortex, two of the storms sampled were also unusually strong, early season storms. Highlights from the genesis missions are described in this article, along with some of the unexpected results from the campaign. Interesting observations include an extremely intense, highly electrified convective tower in the eyewall of Hurricane Emily and a broad region of mesoscale subsidence detected in the lower stratosphere over landfalling Tropical Storm Gert.

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John W. Nielsen-Gammon, Christina L. Powell, M. J. Mahoney, Wayne M. Angevine, Christoph Senff, Allen White, Carl Berkowitz, Christopher Doran, and Kevin Knupp

Abstract

An airborne microwave temperature profiler (MTP) was deployed during the Texas 2000 Air Quality Study (TexAQS-2000) to make measurements of boundary layer thermal structure. An objective technique was developed and tested for estimating the mixed layer (ML) height from the MTP vertical temperature profiles. The technique identifies the ML height as a threshold increase of potential temperature from its minimum value within the boundary layer. To calibrate the technique and evaluate the usefulness of this approach, coincident estimates from radiosondes, radar wind profilers, an aerosol backscatter lidar, and in situ aircraft measurements were compared with each other and with the MTP. Relative biases among all instruments were generally less than 50 m, and the agreement between MTP ML height estimates and other estimates was at least as good as the agreement among the other estimates. The ML height estimates from the MTP and other instruments are utilized to determine the spatial and temporal evolution of ML height in the Houston, Texas, area on 1 September 2000. An elevated temperature inversion was present, so ML growth was inhibited until early afternoon. In the afternoon, large spatial variations in ML height developed across the Houston area. The highest ML heights, well over 2 km, were observed to the north of Houston, while downwind of Galveston Bay and within the late afternoon sea breeze ML heights were much lower. The spatial variations that were found away from the immediate influence of coastal circulations were unexpected, and multiple independent ML height estimates were essential for documenting this feature.

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