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Sebastian Schemm and Gwendal Rivière

Abstract

This study investigates the efficiency of baroclinic eddy growth in an effort to better understand the suppression of the North Pacific storm-track intensity in winter. The efficiency of baroclinic eddy growth depends on the magnitude and orientation of the vertical tilt of the eddy geopotential isolines. The eddy efficiency is maximized if the orientation of the vertical tilt creates an eddy heat flux that aligns with the mean baroclinicity (defined as minus the temperature gradient divided by a stratification parameter) and if the magnitude of the vertical tilt is neither too strong nor too weak. The eddy efficiency is, in contrast to most other eddy measures, independent of the eddy amplitude and thus useful for improving our mechanistic understanding of the effective eddy growth. During the midwinter suppression, the eddy efficiency is reduced north of 40°N over a region upstream of the main storm track, and baroclinic growth is reduced despite a maximum in baroclinicity. Eulerian diagnostics and feature tracking suggest that the reduction in eddy efficiency is due to a stronger poleward tilt with height of eddies entering the Pacific through the northern seeding branch, which results in a more eastward-oriented eddy heat flux and a reduced alignment with the baroclinicity. The stronger poleward tilt with height is constrained by the eddy propagation direction, which is more equatorward when the subtropical jet moves equatorward in winter. In addition, the westward tilt with height is too strong. South of 40°N, the eddy efficiency increases during midwinter but in a region far away from the main storm track.

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Sebastian Schemm and Tapio Schneider

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The wintertime evolution of the North Pacific storm track appears to challenge classical theories of baroclinic instability, which predict deeper extratropical cyclones when baroclinicity is highest. Although the surface baroclinicity peaks during midwinter, and the jet is strongest, eddy kinetic energy (EKE) and baroclinic conversion rates have a midwinter minimum over the North Pacific. This study investigates how the reduction in EKE translates into a reduction in eddy potential vorticity (PV) and heat fluxes via changes in eddy diffusivity. Additionally, it augments previous observations of the midwinter storm-track evolution in both hemispheres using climatologies of tracked surface cyclones. In the North Pacific, the number of surface cyclones is highest during midwinter, while the mean EKE per cyclone and the eddy lifetime are reduced. The midwinter reduction in upper-level eddy activity hence is not associated with a reduction in surface cyclone numbers. North Pacific eddy diffusivities exhibit a midwinter reduction at upper levels, where the Lagrangian decorrelation time is shortest (consistent with reduced eddy lifetimes) and the meridional parcel velocity variance is reduced (consistent with reduced EKE). The resulting midwinter reduction in North Pacific eddy diffusivities translates into an eddy PV flux suppression. In contrast, in the North Atlantic, a milder reduction in the decorrelation time is offset by a maximum in velocity variance, preventing a midwinter diffusivity minimum. The results suggest that a focus on causes of the wintertime evolution of Lagrangian decorrelation times and parcel velocity variance will be fruitful for understanding causes of seasonal storm-track variations.

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Sebastian Schemm and Heini Wernli

Abstract

This study continues the investigation of airstreams in idealized moist baroclinic waves and addresses the formation of the cold conveyor belt (CCB), its linkage to the warm conveyor belt (WCB), and their impact on the development of a midlatitude cyclone. The CCB is identified as a coherent bundle of trajectories, characterized by weak ascent and a strong increase of potential vorticity (PV) along the flow, in contrast to the WCB, defined as the trajectories with maximum ascent. The authors illuminate the role of the two conveyor belts in the formation of two strong PV anomalies that form in the upper (WCB, negative PV anomaly) and lower troposphere (CCB, positive PV anomaly), respectively, and thereby establish a link between these airstreams and relevant aspects of the dynamics of extratropical cyclones. The CCB moves close to the surface along the colder side of the bent-back front and experiences a PV increase as it passes below a region of maximum latent heat release at midtropospheric levels. Accordingly, it arrives with high PV values at the tail of the bent-back front where the most intense low-level winds occur. The WCB, which rises above the bent-back front, causes the formation of the midtropospheric heating rate maximum and thereby not only influences the upper-level downstream development, but also drives the increase of PV along the CCB and, in consequence, indirectly drives the formation of the low-level jet at the tail of the bent-back front.

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Sebastian Schemm, Heini Wernli, and Lukas Papritz

Abstract

This idealized modeling study of moist baroclinic waves addresses the formation of moist ascending airstreams, so-called warm conveyor belts (WCBs), their characteristics, and their significance for the downstream flow evolution. Baroclinic wave simulations are performed on the f plane, growing from a finite-amplitude upper-level potential vorticity (PV) perturbation on a zonally uniform jet stream. This nonmodal approach allows for dispersive upstream and downstream development and for studying WCBs in the primary cyclone and the downstream cyclone. A saturation adjustment scheme is used as the only difference between the dry and moist simulations, which are systematically compared using a cyclone-tracking algorithm, with an eddy kinetic energy budget analysis, and from a PV perspective. Using trajectories and a selection criterion of maximum ascent, forward- and rearward-sloping WCBs in the moist simulation are identified. No WCB is identified in the dry simulation. Forward-sloping WCBs originate in the warm sector, move into the frontal fracture region, and ascend over the bent-back front, where maximum latent heating occurs in this simulation. The outflow of these WCBs is located at altitudes with prevailing zonal winds; they hence flow anticyclonically (“forward”) into the downstream ridge. In case of a slightly weaker ascent, WCBs curve cyclonically (“rearward”) above the cyclone center. A detailed analysis of the PV evolution along the WCBs reveals PV production in the lower troposphere and destruction in the upper troposphere. Consequently, WCBs transport low-PV air into their outflow region, which contributes to the formation of distinct negative PV anomalies. They, in turn, affect the downstream flow and enhance downstream cyclogenesis.

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Sebastian Schemm, Michael Sprenger, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

For nearly a century, the study of atmospheric dynamics in the midlatitudes has presented dichotomic perspectives on one of its focal points: the birth and life cycle of cyclones. In particular, the role of fronts has driven much of the historical discourse on cyclogenesis. In the 1910s–20s, the Bergen School of Meteorology postulated that cyclogenesis occurs on a preexisting front. This concept was later replaced by the baroclinic instability paradigm, which describes the development of a surface front as a consequence of the growing cyclone rather than its cause. However, there is ample observational evidence for cyclogenesis on well-marked fronts (frontal-wave cyclones) as well as for cyclogenesis in the absence of fronts in broader baroclinic zones. Thus, after a century of research on the link between extratropical cyclones and fronts, this study has the objective of climatologically quantifying their relationship. By combining identification schemes for cyclones and fronts, the fraction of cyclones with attendant fronts is quantified at all times during the cyclones’ life cycle. The storm-track regions over the North Atlantic are dominated by cyclones that form on preexisting fronts. Over the North Pacific, the result more strongly depends on the front definition. Cyclones that acquire their fronts during the life cycle dominate over the continents and in the Mediterranean. Further, cyclones that develop attendant fronts during their life cycle typically do so around the time they attain maximum intensity. At the time of cyclolysis, at least 40% of all cyclones are still associated with a front. The number of occluded fronts at lysis has not been considered.

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Sebastian Schemm, Gwendal Rivière, Laura M. Ciasto, and Camille Li

Abstract

This study investigates mechanisms for changes in wintertime extratropical cyclogenesis over North America and the North Atlantic during different phases of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Insights into the relationship between the ENSO–North Atlantic teleconnection and the cyclogenesis changes are provided by diagnosing the relative roles of stationary wave propagation and transient eddies in setting cyclogenesis-conducive large-scale circulation anomalies. During La Niña winters, Rocky Mountain and Greenland cyclogenesis are enhanced, while Gulf Stream cyclogenesis is reduced. Diagnostics suggest that stationary waves of tropical origin work in tandem with transient eddies to amplify the ridge over the northeastern Pacific, establishing background flow anomalies that favor Rocky Mountain cyclogenesis; downstream, more transient eddies with an anticyclonic tilt push the North Atlantic jet poleward, favoring cyclogenesis near Greenland, while contributions from stationary waves are small. During central Pacific El Niño winters, the cyclogenesis situation is essentially the opposite: Rocky Mountain and Greenland cyclogenesis are reduced, while Gulf Stream cyclogenesis is enhanced. The analyses are consistent with stationary waves and transient eddies acting to weaken the climatological ridge over the northeastern Pacific, creating a more zonal Pacific jet; downstream, transient eddies with a cyclonic tilt push the North Atlantic jet equatorward, favoring Gulf Stream cyclogenesis. Anomalies in cyclogenesis frequencies, and the relative roles of transient and stationary waves, during eastern Pacific El Niño winters are associated with larger uncertainties.

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Sebastian Schemm, Laura M. Ciasto, Camille Li, and Nils Gunnar Kvamstø

Abstract

This study investigates the relationship between tropical Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) variability and cyclogenesis over the Gulf Stream region of the North Atlantic. A cyclone identification scheme and Lagrangian trajectories are used to compare preferred cyclogenesis locations and precyclogenesis flow paths associated with three patterns of tropical Pacific SST variability: eastern Pacific (EP) El Niño, central Pacific (CP) El Niño, and La Niña. During EP El Niño and La Niña winters, the upper-level precyclogenesis flow takes a subtropical path over North America and Gulf Stream cyclogenesis predominantly occurs under the North Atlantic jet entrance, which is the climatologically preferred location. In contrast, during CP El Niño winters, when the warmest SST anomalies occur in the central tropical Pacific, the precyclogenesis flow takes a northern path across North America and Gulf Stream cyclogenesis tends to occur farther north under the jet exit. The shift in preferred cyclogenesis is consistent with changes in transient upstream flow perturbations, detected using potential vorticity (PV) streamer frequencies, which are associated with the stationary wave response. Compared to EP El Niño winters, CP El Niño winters exhibit fewer southward-extending streamers and cyclonic (LC2) flow behavior, resulting in precyclogenesis air bypassing the right entrance of the North Atlantic jet. Downstream, Gulf Stream cyclones penetrate deeper into high Arctic latitudes during CP El Niño winters than in other cases. The results highlight distinct signatures of tropical SST anomalies on synoptic-scale atmospheric features and could help constrain future changes in the North Atlantic storm track and the associated poleward heat transport.

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Sebastian Schemm, Aleksi Nummelin, Nils Gunnar Kvamstø, and Øyvind Breivik

Abstract

The Lagrangian Analysis Tool (LAGRANTO) is adopted and applied to ECMWF’s latest ocean reanalysis. The primary motivation behind this study is to introduce and document LAGRANTO Ocean (LAGRANTO.ocean) and explore its capabilities in combination with an eddy-permitting ocean reanalysis. The tool allows for flexibly defining starting points, within circles, cylinders, or any user-defined region or volume. LAGRANTO.ocean also offers a sophisticated way to refine a set of computed trajectories according to a wide range of mathematical operations that can be combined into a single refinement criterion. Tools for calculating—for example, along-trajectory cross sections or trajectory densities—are further provided. After introducing the tool, three case studies are presented, which were chosen to reflect a selection of phenomena on different spatial and temporal scales. The case studies also serve as hands-on examples. For the first case study, at the mesoscale, ocean trajectories are computed during the formation of a Gulf Stream cold-core ring to study vertical motion in the developing eddy. In the second example, source waters are traced to the East Greenland Spill Jet. This example highlights the usefulness of a Lagrangian method for identifying sources or sinks of buoyancy. The third example, on annual time scales, focuses on the temporal evolution of extreme potential temperature anomalies in the South Pacific and the memory of the involved water parcels. Near-surface trajectories reveal that it takes approximately 5 months after the highest temperature anomaly before the involved water parcels cool to their climatological mean values at their new positions. LAGRANTO.ocean will be made publicly available.

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Michael Sprenger, Sebastian Schemm, Roger Oechslin, and Johannes Jenkner

Abstract

The south foehn is a characteristic downslope windstorm in the valleys of the northern Alps in Europe that demands reliable forecasts because of its substantial economic and societal impacts. Traditionally, a foehn is predicted based on pressure differences and tendencies across the Alpine ridge. Here, a new objective method for foehn prediction is proposed based on a machine learning algorithm (called AdaBoost, short for adaptive boosting). Three years (2000–02) of hourly simulations of the Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling’s (COSMO) numerical weather prediction (NWP) model and corresponding foehn wind observations are used to train the algorithm to distinguish between foehn and nonfoehn events. The predictors (133 in total) are subjectively extracted from the 7-km COSMO reanalysis dataset based on the main characteristics of foehn flows. The performance of the algorithm is then assessed with a validation dataset based on a contingency table that concisely summarizes the cooccurrence of observed and predicted (non)foehn events. The main performance measures are probability of detection (88.2%), probability of false detection (2.9%), missing rate (11.8%), correct alarm ratio (66.2%), false alarm ratio (33.8%), and missed alarm ratio (0.8%). To gain insight into the prediction model, the relevance of the single predictors is determined, resulting in a predominance of pressure differences across the Alpine ridge (i.e., similar to the traditional methods) and wind speeds at the foehn stations. The predominance of pressure-related predictors is further established in a sensitivity experiment where ~2500 predictors are objectively incorporated into the prediction model using the AdaBoost algorithm. The performance is very similar to the run with the subjectively determined predictors. Finally, some practical aspects of the new foehn index are discussed (e.g., the predictability of foehn events during the four seasons). The correct alarm rate is highest in winter (86.5%), followed by spring (79.6%), and then autumn (69.2%). The lowest rates are found in summer (51.2%).

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Michael Sprenger, Georgios Fragkoulidis, Hanin Binder, Mischa Croci-Maspoli, Pascal Graf, Christian M. Grams, Peter Knippertz, Erica Madonna, Sebastian Schemm, Bojan Škerlak, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

This paper introduces a newly compiled set of feature-based climatologies identified from ERA-Interim (1979–2014). Two categories of flow features are considered: (i) Eulerian climatologies of jet streams, tropopause folds, surface fronts, cyclones and anticyclones, blocks, and potential vorticity streamers and cutoffs and (ii) Lagrangian climatologies, based on a large ensemble of air parcel trajectories, of stratosphere–troposphere exchange, warm conveyor belts, and tropical moisture exports. Monthly means of these feature climatologies are openly available at the ETH Zürich web page (http://eraiclim.ethz.ch) and are annually updated. Datasets at higher resolution can be obtained from the authors on request. These feature climatologies allow studying the frequency, variability, and trend of atmospheric phenomena and their interrelationships across temporal scales. To illustrate the potential of this dataset, boreal winter climatologies of selected features are presented and, as a first application, the very unusual Northern Hemispheric winter of 2009/10 is identified as the season when most of the considered features show maximum deviations from climatology. The second application considers dry winters in the western United States and reveals fairly localized anomalies in the eastern North Pacific of enhanced blocking and surface anticyclones and reduced cyclones.

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