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Reuben Demirdjian, Joel R. Norris, Andrew Martin, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

The pre-cold-frontal low-level jet (LLJ) is an important contributor for water vapor transport within atmospheric rivers, though its dynamics are not completely understood. The present study investigates the LLJ using dropsonde observations from 24 cross-atmospheric river transects taken during the CalWater-2014, 2015 and the AR-Recon 2016, 2018 field campaigns. It is found that the LLJ, located at ~1-km elevation ahead of the cold front, has an average maximum wind speed of 30 m s−1 and is strongly supergeostrophic with an average ageostrophic component of 6 m s−1. The alongfront ageostrophy occurs within the atmospheric layer (750–1250 m) known to strongly control orographic precipitation associated with atmospheric rivers. The ERA5 reanalysis product is used to both validate the observed geostrophic winds and investigate the supergeostrophic jet dynamics. The comparison demonstrates that there is no systematic bias in the observed geostrophic wind but that the ERA5 LLJ total wind field is generally biased low by an amount consistent with the observed ageostrophy. One of the few cases in which the ERA5 produces an ageostrophic LLJ occurs on 13 February 2016, which is used to investigate the dynamical processes responsible for the ageostrophy. This analysis demonstrates that the isallobaric (pressure tendency) term serves to accelerate the ageostrophic jet, and the Coriolis torque and advective tendency terms serve to propagate the jet normal to the LLJ. Therefore, if a model is to accurately represent the LLJ, it must adequately resolve processes contributing toward the pressure tendencies along the cold front.

Open access
Carolyn A. Reynolds, James D. Doyle, F. Martin Ralph, and Reuben Demirdjian

Abstract

The initial-state sensitivity and optimal perturbation growth for 24- and 36-h forecasts of low-level kinetic energy and precipitation over California during a series of atmospheric river (AR) events that took place in early 2017 are explored using adjoint-based tools from the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS). This time period was part of the record-breaking winter of 2016–17 in which several high-impact ARs made landfall in California. The adjoint sensitivity indicates that both low-level winds and precipitation are most sensitive to mid- to lower-tropospheric perturbations in the initial state in and near the ARs. A case study indicates that the optimal moist perturbations occur most typically along the subsaturated edges of the ARs, in a warm conveyor belt region. The sensitivity to moisture is largest, followed by temperature and winds. A 1 g kg−1 perturbation to moisture may elicit twice as large a response in kinetic energy and precipitation as a 1 m s−1 perturbation to the zonal or meridional wind. In an average sense, the sensitivity and related optimal perturbations are very similar for the kinetic energy and precipitation response functions. However, on a case-by-case basis, differences in the sensitivity magnitude and optimal perturbation structures result in substantially different forecast perturbations, suggesting that optimal adaptive observing strategies should be metric dependent. While the nonlinear evolved perturbations are usually smaller (by about 20%, on average) than the expected linear perturbations, the optimal perturbations are still capable of producing rapid nonlinear perturbation growth. The positive correlation between sensitivity magnitude and wind speed forecast error or precipitation forecast differences supports the relevance of adjoint-based calculations for predictability studies.

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Reuben Demirdjian, Richard Rotunno, Bruce D. Cornuelle, Carolyn A. Reynolds, and James D. Doyle

Abstract

An analysis of the influence and sensitivity of moisture in an idealized two-dimensional moist semigeostrophic frontogenesis model is presented. A comparison between a dry (relative humidity RH = 0%) version and a moist (RH = 80%) version of the model demonstrates that the impact of moisture is to increase frontogenesis, strengthen the transverse circulation (u ag, w), generate a low-level potential-vorticity anomaly, and develop a low-level jet. The idealized model is compared with a real case simulated with the full-physics three-dimensional Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) model, establishing good agreement and thereby confirming that the idealized model retains the essential physical processes relevant for improving understanding of midlatitude frontogenesis. Optimal perturbations of mixing ratio are calculated to quantify the circulation response of the model through the computation of singular vectors, which determines the fastest-growing modes of a linearized version of the idealized model. The vertical velocity is found to respond strongly to initial-condition mixing-ratio perturbations such that small changes in moisture lead to large changes in the ascent. The progression of physical processes responsible for this nonlinear growth is (in order) jet/front transverse circulation → moisture convergence ahead of the front → latent heating at mid- to low elevations → reduction in static stability ahead of the front → strengthening of the transverse circulation, and the feedback cycle repeats. Together, these physical processes represent a pathway by which small perturbations of moisture can have a strong impact on a forecast involving midlatitude frontogenesis.

Open access
Andrew Martin, F. Martin Ralph, Reuben Demirdjian, Laurel DeHaan, Rachel Weihs, John Helly, David Reynolds, and Sam Iacobellis

Abstract

Accurate forecasts of precipitation during landfalling atmospheric rivers (ARs) are critical because ARs play a large role in water supply and flooding for many regions. In this study, we have used hundreds of observations to verify global and regional model forecasts of atmospheric rivers making landfall in Northern California and offshore in the midlatitude northeast Pacific Ocean. We have characterized forecast error and the predictability limit in AR water vapor transport, static stability, onshore precipitation, and standard atmospheric fields. Analysis is also presented that apportions the role of orographic forcing and precipitation response in driving errors in forecast precipitation after AR landfall. It is found that the global model and the higher-resolution regional model reach their predictability limit in forecasting the atmospheric state during ARs at similar lead times, and both present similar and important errors in low-level water vapor flux, moist-static stability, and precipitation. However, the relative contribution of forcing and response to the incurred precipitation error is very different in the two models. It can be demonstrated using the analysis presented herein that improving water vapor transport accuracy can significantly reduce regional model precipitation errors during ARs, while the same cannot be demonstrated for the global model.

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Reuben Demirdjian, James D. Doyle, Carolyn A. Reynolds, Joel R. Norris, Allison C. Michaelis, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

Analysis of a strong landfalling atmospheric river is presented that compares the evolution of a control simulation with that of an adjoint-derived perturbed simulation using the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System. The initial-condition sensitivities are optimized for all state variables to maximize the accumulated precipitation within the majority of California. The water vapor transport is found to be substantially enhanced at the California coast in the perturbed simulation during the time of peak precipitation, demonstrating a strengthened role of the orographic precipitation forcing. Similarly, moisture convergence and vertical velocities derived from the transverse circulation are found to be substantially enhanced during the time of peak precipitation, also demonstrating a strengthened role of the dynamic component of the precipitation.

Importantly, both components of precipitation are associated with enhanced latent heating by which (i) a stronger diabatically driven low-level potential vorticity anomaly strengthens the low-level wind (and thereby the orographic precipitation forcing), and (ii) greater moist diabatic forcing enhances the Sawyer–Eliassen transverse circulation and thereby increases ascent and dynamic precipitation. A Lagrangian parcel trajectory analysis demonstrates that a positive moisture perturbation within the atmospheric river increases the moisture transport into the warm conveyor belt offshore, which enhances latent heating in the perturbed simulation. These results suggest that the precipitation forecast in this case is particularly sensitive to the initial moisture content within the atmospheric river due to its role in enhancing both the orographic precipitation forcing and the dynamic component of precipitation.

Open access
Forest Cannon, Jason M. Cordeira, Chad W. Hecht, Joel R. Norris, Allison Michaelis, Reuben Demirdjian, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

Despite numerous studies documenting the importance of atmospheric rivers (AR) to the global water cycle and regional precipitation, the evolution of their water vapor fluxes has been difficult to investigate given the challenges of observing and modeling precipitation processes within ARs over the ocean. This study uses satellite-based radar reflectivity profiles from the Global Precipitation Measurement Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (GPM-DPR), combined with kinematic and thermodynamic conditions in the vicinity of the precipitation diagnosed from the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis, to evaluate the characteristics and dynamical origins of precipitation in ARs over the northeast Pacific Ocean. Transects of 192 ARs between 2014 and 2018 are examined. Both stratiform and convective precipitation were abundant in these GPM transects and the precipitation was most often generated by forced ascent in the vicinity of a cold front in frontogenetic environments. Conditioning composite vertical profiles of reflectivity and latent heating from GPM-DPR on frontogenesis near the moist-neutral low-level jet demonstrated the importance of frontally forced precipitation on atmospheric heating tendencies. A case study of a high-impact landfalling AR is analyzed using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model, which showed how the precipitation processes and subsequent latent heat release offshore strongly influenced AR evolution. Although these precipitation mechanisms are present in global-scale models, the difficulty that coarse-resolution models have in accurately representing resultant precipitation likely translates to uncertainty in forecasting heating tendencies, their feedbacks on AR evolution, and ultimately the impacts of ARs upon landfall in the western United States.

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Forest Cannon, Nina S. Oakley, Chad W. Hecht, Allison Michaelis, Jason M. Cordeira, Brian Kawzenuk, Reuben Demirdjian, Rachel Weihs, Meredith A. Fish, Anna M. Wilson, and F. Martin Ralph

Abstract

Short-duration, high-intensity rainfall in Southern California, often associated with narrow cold-frontal rainbands (NCFR), threaten life and property. While the mechanisms that drive NCFRs are relatively well understood, their regional characteristics, specific contribution to precipitation hazards, and their predictability in the western United States have received little research attention relative to their impact. This manuscript presents observations of NCFR physical processes made during the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance field campaign on 2 February 2019 and investigates the predictability of the observed NCFR across spatiotemporal scales and forecast lead time. Dropsonde data collected along transects of an atmospheric river (AR) and its attendant cyclone during rapid cyclogenesis, and radiosonde observations during landfall 24 h later, are used to demonstrate that a configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model skillfully reproduces the physical processes responsible for the development and maintenance of the impactful NCFR. Ensemble simulations provide quantitative uncertainty information on the representation of these features in numerical weather prediction and instill confidence in the utility of WRF as a forecast guidance tool for short- to medium-range prediction of mesoscale precipitation processes in landfalling ARs. This research incorporates novel data and methodologies to improve forecast guidance for NCFRs impacting Southern California. While this study focuses on a single event, the outlined approach to observing and predicting high-impact weather across a range of spatial and temporal scales will support regional water management and hazard mitigation, in general.

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Joel R. Norris, F. Martin Ralph, Reuben Demirdjian, Forest Cannon, Byron Blomquist, Christopher W. Fairall, J. Ryan Spackman, Simone Tanelli, and Duane E. Waliser

Abstract

Combined airborne, shipboard, and satellite measurements provide the first observational assessment of all major terms of the vertically integrated water vapor (IWV) budget for a 150 km × 160 km region within the core of a strong atmospheric river over the northeastern Pacific Ocean centered on 1930 UTC 5 February 2015. Column-integrated moisture flux convergence is estimated from eight dropsonde profiles, and surface rain rate is estimated from tail Doppler radar reflectivity measurements. Dynamical convergence of water vapor (2.20 ± 0.12 mm h−1) nearly balances estimated precipitation (2.47 ± 0.41 mm h−1), but surface evaporation (0.0 ± 0.05 mm h−1) is negligible. Advection of drier air into the budget region (−1.50 ± 0.21 mm h−1) causes IWV tendency from the sum of all terms to be negative (−1.66 ± 0.45 mm h−1). An independent estimate of IWV tendency obtained from the difference between IWV measured by dropsonde and retrieved by satellite 3 h earlier is less negative (−0.52 ± 0.24 mm h−1), suggesting the presence of substantial temporal variability that is smoothed out when averaging over several hours. The calculation of budget terms for various combinations of dropsonde subsets indicates the presence of substantial spatial variability at ~50-km scales for precipitation, moisture flux convergence, and IWV tendency that is smoothed out when averaging over the full budget region. Across subregions, surface rain rate is linearly proportional to dynamical convergence of water vapor. These observational results improve our understanding of the thermodynamic and kinematic processes that control IWV in atmospheric rivers and the scales at which they occur.

Open access