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Robert Conrick
and
Clifford F. Mass

Abstract

The OLYMPEX field campaign, which took place around the Olympic Mountains of Washington State during winter 2015/16, provided data for evaluating the simulated microphysics and precipitation over and near that barrier. Using OLYMPEX observations, this paper assesses precipitation and associated microphysics in the WRF-ARW model over the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Model precipitation from the University of Washington real-time WRF forecast system during the OLYMPEX field program (November 2015–February 2016) and an extended period (2008–18) showed persistent underprediction of precipitation, reaching 100 mm yr−1 over the windward side of the coastal terrain. Increasing horizontal resolution does not substantially reduce this underprediction. Evaluating surface disdrometer observations during the 2015/16 OLYMPEX winter, it was found that the operational University of Washington WRF modeling system using Thompson microphysics poorly simulated the rain drop size distribution over a windward coastal valley. Although liquid water content was represented realistically, drop diameters were overpredicted, and, consequently, the rain drop distribution intercept parameter was underpredicted. During two heavy precipitation periods, WRF realistically simulated environmental conditions, including wind speed, thermodynamic structures, integrated moisture transport, and melting levels. Several microphysical parameterization schemes were tested in addition to the Thompson scheme, with each exhibiting similar biases for these two events. We show that the parameterization of aerosols over the coastal Northwest offered only minor improvement.

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Robert Conrick
and
Clifford F. Mass

Abstract

This study evaluates moist physics in the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model using observations collected during the Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) field campaign by the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite, including data from the GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments. Even though WRF using Thompson et al. microphysics was able to realistically simulate water vapor concentrations approaching the barrier, there was underprediction of cloud water content and rain rates offshore and over western slopes of terrain. We showed that underprediction of rain rate occurred when cloud water was underpredicted, establishing a connection between cloud water and rain-rate deficits. Evaluations of vertical hydrometeor mixing ratio profiles indicated that WRF produced too little cloud water and rainwater content, particularly below 2.5 km, with excessive snow above this altitude. Simulated mixing ratio profiles were less influenced by coastal proximity or midlatitude storm sector than were GMI profiles. Evaluations of different synoptic storm sectors suggested that postfrontal storm sectors were simulated most realistically, while warm sectors had the largest errors. DPR observations confirm the underprediction of rain rates noted by GMI, with no dependence on whether rain occurs over land or water. Finally, WRF underpredicted radar reflectivity below 2 km and overpredicted above 2 km, consistent with GMI vertical mixing ratio profiles.

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Robert Conrick
and
Clifford F. Mass

Abstract

During late June 2021, a record-breaking heatwave impacted western North America, with all-time high temperatures reported across Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alberta. The heatwave was forced by a highly anomalous upper-level ridge, strong synoptic-scale subsidence, and downslope flow resulting in lower-tropospheric adiabatic warming. This study examines the impact of antecedent soil moisture on this extreme heat event. During the cool season of 2020/21, precipitation over the Pacific Northwest was above or near normal, followed by a dry spring that desiccated soils to 50%–75% of normal moisture content by early June. Low surface soil moisture affects the surface energy balance by altering the partitioning between sensible and latent heat fluxes, resulting in warmer temperatures. Using numerical model simulations of the heatwave, this study demonstrates that surface air temperatures were warmed by an average of 0.48°C as a result of dry soil moisture conditions, compared to a high-temperature anomaly of 10°–20°C during the event. Air temperatures over eastern Washington and southern British Columbia were most sensitive to soil moisture anomalies, with 0000 UTC temperature anomalies ranging from 1.2° to 2.2°C. Trajectory analysis indicated that rapid subsidence of elevated parcels prevented air parcels from being affected by surface heat fluxes over a prolonged period of time, resulting in a relatively small temperature sensitivity to soil moisture. Changes to soil moisture also altered regional pressure, low-level wind, and geopotential heights, as well as modified the marine air intrusion along the Pacific coast of Washington and Oregon.

Significance Statement

The record-breaking western North American heatwave of late June 2021 was preceded by below-normal soil moisture over the region. This study evaluates the role of soil moisture on the 2021 heatwave, demonstrating that the anomalous temperatures during this extreme event were not significantly increased by below-normal soil moisture.

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Robert Conrick
,
Heather Dawn Reeves
, and
Shiyuan Zhong

Abstract

Six forecasts of a lake-effect-snow event off Lake Erie were conducted using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model to determine how the quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) was affected when the boundary- and surface-layer parameterization schemes were changed. These forecasts showed strong variability, with differences in liquid-equivalent precipitation maxima in excess of 20 mm over a 6-h period. The quasi-normal scale elimination (QNSE) schemes produced the highest accumulations, and the Mellor–Yamada–Nakanishi–Niino (MYNN) schemes produced the lowest. Differences in precipitation were primarily due to different sensible heat flux F H and moisture flux F Q off the lake, with lower F H and F Q in MYNN leading to comparatively weak low-level instability and, consequently, reduced ascent and production of hydrometeors. The different F H and F Q were found to have two causes. In QNSE, the higher F H and F Q were due to the decision to use a Prandtl number P R of 0.72 (all other schemes use a P R of 1). In MYNN, the lower F H and F Q were due to the manner in which the similarity stability function for heat ψ h is functionally dependent on the temperature gradient between the surface and the lowest model layer. It is not known what assumptions are more accurate for environments that are typical for lake-effect snow, but comparisons with available observations and Rapid-Update-Cycle analyses indicated that MYNN had the most accurate results.

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Robert Conrick
,
Clifford F. Mass
, and
Qi Zhong

Abstract

Two Kelvin–Helmholtz (KH) wave events over western Washington State were simulated and evaluated using observations from the Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) field campaign. The events, 12 and 17 December 2015, were simulated realistically by the WRF-ARW Model, duplicating the mesoscale environment, location, and structure of embedded KH waves, which had observed wavelengths of approximately 5 km. In simulations of both cases, waves developed from instability within an intense shear layer, caused by low-level easterly flow surmounted by westerly winds aloft. The low-level easterlies resulted from blocking by the Olympic Mountains in the 12 December case, while in the 17 December event, the easterly flow was produced by the synoptic environment. Simulated microphysics were evaluated for both cases using OLYMPEX observations. When the KH waves were within the melting level, simulated microphysical fields, such as hydrometeor mixing ratios, evinced considerable oscillatory behavior. In contrast, when waves were located below the melting level, the microphysical response was attenuated. Turning off the model’s microphysics scheme and latent heating resulted in weakened KH wave activity, while removing the Olympic Mountains eliminated KH waves in the 12 December event but not the 17 December case. Finally, the impact of several microphysics parameterizations on KH activity was evaluated for both events.

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Joseph P. Zagrodnik
,
Lynn McMurdie
, and
Robert Conrick

Abstract

High-resolution numerical model simulations of six different cases during the 2015/16 Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) are used to examine dynamic and microphysical precipitation processes on both the full barrier-scale and smaller sub-barrier-scale ridges and valleys. The degree to which stratiform precipitation within midlatitude cyclones is modified over the coastal Olympic Mountains range was found to be strongly dependent on the synoptic environment within a cyclone’s prefrontal and warm sectors. In prefrontal sectors, barrier-scale ascent over stably stratified flow resulted in enhanced ice production aloft at the coast and generally upstream of higher terrain. At low levels, stable flow orientated transverse to sub-barrier-scale windward ridges generated small-scale mountain waves, which failed to produce enough cloud water to appreciably enhance precipitation on the scale of the windward ridges. In moist-neutral warm sectors, the upstream side of the barrier exhibited broad ascent oriented along the windward ridges with lesser regions of adjacent downward motion. Significant quantities of cloud water were produced over coastal foothills with further production of cloud water on the lower-windward slopes. Ice production above the melting layer occurred directly over the barrier where the ice particles were further advected downstream by cross-barrier winds and spilled over into the lee. The coastal foothills were found to be essential for the production and maintenance of cloud water upstream of the primary topographic barrier, allowing additional time for hydrometeors to grow to precipitation size by autoconversion and collection before falling out on the lower-windward slopes.

Open access
Clifford Mass
,
Calen Randall
,
Robert Conrick
, and
David Ovens

Abstract

The development of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies over the northeast Pacific and their impacts on lower-tropospheric air temperatures over the Pacific Northwest are examined. Northeast Pacific SST anomalies are influenced by the synoptic-scale flow, with high pressure and weak surface winds associated with developing warm SST anomalies, while large pressure gradients and strong surface winds result in SST declines. SST over the northeast Pacific correlates significantly with surface air temperatures over the Pacific Northwest, with correlations increasing when high-frequency variability is filtered out. The correlations between unfiltered time series of SST and surface air temperature are largest for a zero-day lag and are strongest near the coast, contrasting with weaker correlations over the Columbia basin east of the Cascade Mountains. SST correlations with minimum surface air temperature are largest during the warm season, and maximum temperature correlations are highest in March; both have low correlations during autumn. Model simulations of periods with warm and cold northeast Pacific SST anomalies possess lower-tropospheric air temperature warming or cooling over the coastal zone, with SST influence weakening east of the Cascade crest. Eastern Pacific SST anomalies influence sea level pressure and lower-tropospheric heights, with warm SST anomalies resulting in simulated lowered pressure near the surface and increased heights aloft. The relationship between northeast Pacific SST and surface air temperature over land evince complex feedbacks: SST temperature anomalies can be advected inland from the Pacific, the SST anomalies can influence the synoptic-scale flow that affects the SST anomalies, and the synoptic-scale anomalies that produce the SST anomalies can directly influence temperatures over land.

Significance Statement

Understanding the connection between northeast Pacific sea surface temperatures and low-level air temperatures over land is valuable for both subseasonal prediction and for examining the fidelity of model physics.

Free access
Robert Conrick
,
Clifford F. Mass
, and
Lynn McMurdie

Abstract

Current bulk microphysical parameterization schemes underpredict precipitation intensities and drop size distributions (DSDs) during warm rain periods, particularly upwind of coastal terrain. To help address this deficiency, this study introduces a set of modifications, called RCON, to the liquid-phase (warm rain) parameterization currently used in the Thompson–Eidhammer microphysical parameterization scheme. RCON introduces several model modifications, motivated by evaluating simulations from a bin scheme, which together result in more accurate precipitation simulations during periods of warm rain. Among the most significant changes are 1) the use of a wider cloud water DSD of lognormal shape instead of the gamma DSD used by the Thompson–Eidhammer parameterization and 2) enhancement of the cloud-to-rain autoconversion parameterization. Evaluation of RCON is performed for two warm rain events and an extended period during the Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) field campaign of winter 2015/16. We show that RCON modifications produce more realistic precipitation distributions and rain DSDs than the default Thompson–Eidhammer configuration. For the multimonth OLYMPEX period, we show that rain rates, rainwater mixing ratios, and raindrop number concentrations were increased relative to the Thompson–Eidhammer microphysical parameterization, while concurrently decreasing raindrop diameters in liquid-phase clouds. These changes are consistent with an increase in simulated warm rain. Finally, real-time evaluation of the scheme from August 2021 to August 2022 demonstrated improved precipitation prediction over coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Significance Statement

Although the accurate simulation of warm rain is critical to forecasting the hydrology of coastal areas and windward slopes, many warm rain parameterizations underpredict precipitation in these locations. This study introduces and evaluates modifications to the Thompson–Eidhammer microphysics parameterization scheme that significantly improve the accuracy of rainfall prediction in those regions.

Restricted access
Clifford Mass
,
David Ovens
,
John Christy
, and
Robert Conrick

Abstract

An unprecedented heat wave occurred over the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada on 25–30 June 2021, resulting in all-time temperature records that greatly exceeded previous record maximum temperatures. The impacts were substantial, including several hundred deaths, thousands of hospitalizations, a major wildfire in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, and severe damage to regional vegetation. Several factors came together to produce this extreme event: a record-breaking midtropospheric ridge over British Columbia in the optimal location, record-breaking midtropospheric temperatures, strong subsidence in the lower atmosphere, low-level easterly flow that produced downslope warming on regional terrain and the removal of cooler marine air, an approaching low-level trough that enhanced downslope flow, the occurrence at a time of maximum insolation, and drier-than-normal soil moisture. It is shown that all-time-record temperatures have not become more frequent and that annual high temperatures only increased at the rate of baseline global warming. Although anthropogenic warming may have contributed as much as 1°C to the event, there is little evidence of further amplification from increasing greenhouse gases. Weather forecasts were excellent for this event, with highly accurate predictions of the extreme temperatures.

Significance Statement

This paper describes the atmospheric evolution that produced an extreme heat wave over the Pacific Northwest during June 2021 and puts this event into historical perspective.

Restricted access
Robert Conrick
,
Joseph P. Zagrodnik
, and
Clifford F. Mass

Abstract

Radar retrievals of drop size distribution (DSD) parameters are developed and evaluated over the mountainous Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The observations used to develop retrievals were collected during the 2015/16 Olympic Mountain Experiment (OLYMPEX) and included the NASA S-band dual-polarimetric (NPOL) radar and a collection of second-generation Particle Size and Velocity (PARSIVEL2) disdrometers over the windward slopes of the barrier. Nonlinear and random forest regressions are applied to the PARSIVEL2 data to develop retrievals for median volume diameter, liquid water content, and rain rate. Improvement in DSD retrieval accuracy, defined by the mean error of the retrieval relative to PARSIVEL2 observations, was achieved when using the random forest model when compared with nonlinear regression. Evaluation of disdrometer observations and the retrievals from NPOL indicate that the radar retrievals can accurately reproduce observed DSDs in this region, including the common wintertime regime of small but numerous raindrops that is important there. NPOL retrievals during the OLYMPEX period are further evaluated using two-dimensional video disdrometers (2DVD) and vertically pointing Micro Rain Radars. Results indicate that radar retrievals using random forests may be skillful in capturing DSD characteristics in the lowest portions of the atmosphere.

Free access