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Arun Kumar and Mingyue Chen

Abstract

Faced with the scenario when prediction skill is low, particularly in conjunction with long-range predictions, a commonly proposed solution is that an increase in ensemble size will rectify the issue of low skill. Although it is well known that an increase in ensemble size does lead to an increase in prediction skill, the general scope of this supposition, however, is that low prediction skill is not a consequence of constraints imposed by inherent predictability limits, but an artifact of small ensemble sizes, and further, increases in ensemble sizes (that are often limited by computational resources) are the major bottlenecks for improving long-range predictions. In proposing that larger ensemble sizes will remedy the issue of low skill, a fact that is not well appreciated is that for scenarios with high inherent predictability, a small ensemble size is sufficient to realize high predictability, while for scenarios with low inherent predictability, much larger ensemble sizes are needed to realize low predictability. In other words, requirements on ensemble size (to realize the inherent predictability) and inherent predictability are complementary variables. A perceived need for larger ensembles, therefore, may also imply the presence of low predictability.

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Mingyue Chen and Arun Kumar

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The possible causes for the observed winter 2015/16 precipitation anomalies, which were opposite to the mean El Niño signal over the U.S. Southwest, are analyzed based on the ensemble of forecasts from the NCEP Climate Forecast System, version 2 (CFSv2). The analysis focuses on the role of anomalous sea surface temperature (SST) forcing and the contributions of atmospheric internal variability. The model-predicted ensemble mean forecast for December–January–February 2015/16 (DJF 2015/16) North American atmospheric anomalies compared favorably with the El Niño composite, although some difference existed. The predicted pattern was also like that in the previous strong El Niño events of 1982/83 and 1997/98. Therefore, the model largely predicted the teleconnection and precipitation response pattern in DJF 2015/16 like the mean El Niño signal. The observed negative precipitation anomalies over the U.S. Southwest in DJF 2015/16 were not consistent either with the observed or with the model-predicted El Niño composite. Analysis of the member-to-member variability in the ensemble of forecast anomalies allowed quantification of the contribution of atmospheric internal variability in shaping seasonal mean anomalies. There were considerable variations in the outcome of DJF 2015/16 precipitation over North America from one forecast to another even though the predicted SSTs were nearly identical. The observed DJF 2015/16 precipitation anomalies were well within the envelope of possible forecast outcomes. Therefore, the atmospheric internal variability could have played a considerable role in determining the observed DJF 2015/16 negative precipitation anomalies over the U.S. Southwest, and its role is discussed in the context of differences in response.

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Arun Kumar and Mingyue Chen

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Using extensive hindcasts from seasonal prediction systems participating in the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME), possible causes for low skill in predicting seasonal mean precipitation over California during December–February (DJF) are investigated. The analysis focuses on investigating two possibilities for low prediction skill: role model biases or inherent predictability limits. The motivation for the analysis was the seasonal prediction during DJF 2015/16 that called for enhanced probability for above normal precipitation over southern California (which was consistent with expected conditions during an extreme El Niño) while the observed precipitation was below normal. Based on various analysis approaches and using hindcast datasets from multiple seasonal prediction systems, we build up the evidence that low skill in predicting seasonal mean precipitation over California is likely to be due to inherent predictability associated with a low signal-to-noise (SNR) regime. For the same set of seasonal prediction systems, the precipitation variability over California is contrasted with that over the southeast United States where prediction skill, as well as the SNR, is higher. The discussion also notes that building a knowledge base that goes beyond the well-known response to ENSO (based on the linear regression or composite techniques) has proven to be difficult and a systematic approach to reaching resolution to some of the overarching questions is required, and toward that end, a pathway is suggested.

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Mingyue Chen, Wanqiu Wang, and Arun Kumar

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Using the retrospective forecasts from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) coupled atmosphere–ocean Climate Forecast System (CFS) and the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) simulations from its uncoupled atmospheric component, the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS), the relative roles of atmospheric and land initial conditions and the lower boundary condition of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the prediction of monthly-mean temperature are investigated. The analysis focuses on the lead-time dependence of monthly-mean prediction skill and its asymptotic value for longer lead times, which could be attributed the atmospheric response to the slowly varying SST. The results show that the observed atmospheric and land initial conditions improve the skill of monthly-mean prediction in the extratropics but have little influence in the tropics. However, the influence of initial atmospheric and land conditions in the extratropics decays rapidly. For 30-day-lead predictions, the global-mean forecast skill of monthly means is found to reach an asymptotic value that is primarily determined by the SST anomalies. The lead time at which initial conditions lose their influence varies spatially. In addition, the initial atmospheric and land conditions are found to have longer impacts in northern winter and spring than in summer and fall. The relevance of the results for constructing lagged ensemble forecasts is discussed.

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Arun Kumar, Mingyue Chen, and Wanqiu Wang

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The connection between the local SST and precipitation (SST–P) correlation and the prediction skill of precipitation on a seasonal time scale is investigated based on seasonal hindcasts from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Climate Forecast System version 2 (CFSv2). The results demonstrate that there is good correspondence between the two: precipitation skill is generally high only over the regions where SST–P correlation is positive and is low where SST–P correlation is small or weakly negative. This result has fundamental implications for understanding the limits of precipitation predictability on seasonal time scale and helps explain spatial variations in the skill of seasonal mean precipitation. Over the regions where atmospheric variability drives the ocean variability (and consequently the local SST–P correlation is weakly negative), the inherently unpredictable nature of atmospheric variability leads to low predictability for seasonal precipitation. On the other hand, over the regions where slow time scale ocean variability drives the atmosphere (and the local SST–P correlation is large positive), the predictability of seasonal mean precipitation is also high.

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Wanqiu Wang, Mingyue Chen, and Arun Kumar

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Impacts of the ocean surface on the representation of the northward-propagating boreal summer intraseasonal oscillation (NPBSISO) over the Indian monsoon region are analyzed using the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) coupled atmosphere–ocean Climate Forecast System (CFS) and its atmospheric component, the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS). Analyses are based on forecasts of five strong NPBSISO events during June–September 2005–07.

The inclusion of an interactive ocean in the model is found to be necessary to maintain the observed NPBSISO. The atmosphere-only GFS is capable of maintaining the convection that propagates from the equator to 12°N with reasonable amplitude within the first 15 days, after which the anomalies become very weak, suggesting that the atmospheric internal dynamics alone are not sufficient to sustain the anomalies to propagate to higher latitudes. Forecasts of the NPBSISO in the CFS are more realistic, with the amplitude of precipitation and 850-mb zonal wind anomalies comparable to that in observations for the entire 30-day target period, but with slower northward propagation compared to that observed. Further, the phase relationship between precipitation, sea surface temperature (SST), and surface latent heat fluxes associated with the NPBSISO in the CFS is similar to that in the observations, with positive precipitation anomalies following warm SST anomalies, which are further led by positive anomalies of the surface latent heat and solar radiation fluxes into the ocean.

Additional experiments with the atmosphere-only GFS are performed to examine the impacts of uncertainties in SSTs. It is found that intraseasonal SST anomalies 2–3 times as large as that of the observational bulk SST analysis of Reynolds et al. are needed for the GFS to produce realistic northward propagation of the NPBSISO with reasonable amplitude and to capture the observed phase lag between SST and precipitation. The analysis of the forecasts and the experiments suggests that a realistic representation of the observed propagation of the oscillation by the NCEP model requires not only an interactive ocean but also an intraseasonal SST variability stronger than that of the bulk SST analysis.

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Mingyue Chen, Wanqiu Wang, and Arun Kumar

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An analysis of lagged ensemble seasonal forecasts from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Climate Forecast System, version 2 (CFSv2), is presented. The focus of the analysis is on the construction of lagged ensemble forecasts with increasing lead time (thus allowing use of larger ensemble sizes) and its influence on seasonal prediction skill. Predictions of seasonal means of sea surface temperature (SST), 200-hPa height (z200), precipitation, and 2-m air temperature (T2m) over land are analyzed. Measures of prediction skill include deterministic (anomaly correlation and mean square error) and probabilistic [rank probability skill score (RPSS)]. The results show that for a fixed lead time, and as one would expect, the skill of seasonal forecast improves as the ensemble size increases, while for a fixed ensemble size the forecast skill decreases as the lead time becomes longer. However, when a forecast is based on a lagged ensemble, there exists an optimal lagged ensemble time (OLET) when positive influence of increasing ensemble size and negative influence due to an increasing lead time result in a maximum in seasonal prediction skill. The OLET is shown to depend on the geographical location and variable. For precipitation and T2m, OLET is relatively longer and skill gain is larger than that for SST and tropical z200. OLET is also dependent on the skill measure with RPSS having the longest OLET. Results of this analysis will be useful in providing guidelines on the design and understanding relative merits for different configuration of seasonal prediction systems.

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Wanqiu Wang, Mingyue Chen, and Arun Kumar

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While fully coupled atmosphere–ocean models have been used to study the seasonal predictability of sea ice variations within the context of models’ own variability, their capability in predicting the observed sea ice at the seasonal time scales is not well assessed. In this study, sea ice predictions from the recently developed NCEP Climate Forecast System, version 2 (CFSv2), a fully coupled atmosphere–ocean model including an interactive dynamical sea ice component, are analyzed. The focus of the analysis is the performance of CFSv2 in reproducing observed Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent (SIE). The SIE climatology, long-term trend, interannual variability, and predictability are assessed. CFSv2 contains systematic biases that are dependent more on the forecast target month than the initial month, with a positive SIE bias for the forecast for January–September and a negative SIE bias for the forecast for October–December. A large source of seasonal prediction skill is from the long-term trend, which is underestimated in the CFSv2. Prediction skill of interannual SIE anomalies is found to be primarily within the first three target months and is largest in the summer and early fall. The performance of the prediction of sea ice interannual variations varies from year to year and is found to be related to initial sea ice thickness. Potential predictability based on the forecast ensemble, its dependence on model deficiencies, and implications of the results from this study for improvements in the seasonal sea ice prediction are discussed.

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Arun Kumar, Peitao Peng, and Mingyue Chen

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In this paper, possible connections between actual and potential skill are discussed. Actual skill refers to when the prediction time series is validated against the observations as the verification while perfect skill refers to when the observed verification time series is replaced by one of the members from the ensemble of predictions. It is argued that (i) there need not be a relationship between potential and actual skill; (ii) potential skill is not constrained to be always greater than actual skill, and examples to the contrary can be found; and (iii) there are methods whereby statistical characteristics of predicted anomalies can be compared with the corresponding in the observations, and inferences about the validity of the (positive) gap between potential and actual skill as “room for improvement” can be better substantiated.

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Wanqiu Wang, Mingyue Chen, and Arun Kumar

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This study assesses the real-time seasonal forecasts for 2005–08 with the current National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Climate Forecast System (CFS). The forecasts are compared with retrospective forecasts (or hindcasts) for 1981–2004 to examine the consistency of the forecast system, and with the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) simulations forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to contrast the realized skill against the potential predictability due to the specification of the observed sea surface temperatures. The analysis focuses on the forecasts of SSTs, 2-m surface air temperature (T2M), and precipitation.

The CFS forecasts maintained a good level of prediction skill for SSTs in the tropical Pacific, the western Indian Ocean, and the northern Atlantic. The SST forecast skill is within the range of hindcast skill levels calculated with 4-yr windows, which can vary greatly associated with the interannual El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability. Overall, the SST forecast skill over the globe is comparable to the average of the hindcast skill. For the tropical eastern Pacific, however, the forecast skill at lead times longer than 2 months is less than the average hindcast skill due to the relatively weaker ENSO variability during the forecast period (2005–08). The forecasts and hindcasts show a similar level of precipitation skill over most of the globe. For T2M, the spatial distribution of skill differs substantially between the forecasts and hindcasts. In particular, the T2M skill of the forecasts for the Northern Hemisphere during its warm seasons is lower than that of the hindcasts.

Comparison with the AMIP simulations shows similar levels of precipitation skill over the tropical Pacific. Over the tropical Indian Ocean, the CFS forecasts show a substantially higher level of skill than the AMIP simulations for a large part of the period. This conforms with the results from previous studies that while interannual variability in the tropical Pacific atmosphere is slaved to the underlying SST anomalies, specification of SSTs (as for the AMIP simulations) in the Indian Ocean may lead to incorrect simulation of the atmospheric variability. Over the tropical Atlantic, the precipitation skill of both the CFS forecasts and AMIP simulations is low, suggesting that SSTs have less control over the atmospheric anomalies and the predictability is low.

The analysis reveals several deficiencies in the current CFS that need to be corrected for improved seasonal forecasting. For example, the CFS tends to consistently forecast larger ENSO amplitude and delayed transition between the ENSO phases. Forecasts of T2M also have a strong cold bias in Northern Hemisphere mid- to high latitudes during warm seasons. This error is due to initial soil moisture anomalies, which appear to be too wet compared with two other observational analyses. The strong impacts of soil moisture on the seasonal forecasts, and large discrepancies among the soil moisture analyses, call for more accurate specification of soil moisture. Furthermore, average forecast SST and T2M anomalies for 2005–08 show a cold bias over the entire globe, indicating that the model is unable to maintain the observed long-term warming trend.

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