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Characteristics, Origins, and Impacts of Summertime Extreme Precipitation in the Lake Mead Watershed

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

The North American monsoon (NAM) is the main driver of summertime climate variability in the U.S. Southwest. Previous studies of the NAM have primarily focused on the Tier I region of the North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME), spanning central-western Mexico, southern Arizona, and New Mexico. This study, however, presents a climatological characterization of summertime precipitation, defined as July–September (JAS), in the Lake Mead watershed, located in the NAME Tier II region. Spatiotemporal variability of JAS rainfall is examined from 1981 to 2016 using gridded precipitation data and the meteorological mechanisms that account for this variability are investigated using reanalyses. The importance of the number of wet days (24-h rainfall ≥1 mm) and extreme rainfall events (95th percentile of wet days) to the total JAS precipitation is examined and shows extreme events playing a larger role in the west and central basin. An investigation into the dynamical drivers of extreme rainfall events indicates that anticyclonic Rossby wave breaking (RWB) in the midlatitude westerlies over the U.S. West Coast is associated with 89% of precipitation events >10 mm (98th percentile of wet days) over the Lake Mead basin. This is in contrast to the NAME Tier I region where easterly upper-level disturbances such as inverted troughs are the dominant driver of extreme precipitation. Due to the synoptic nature of RWB events, corresponding impacts and hazards extend beyond the Lake Mead watershed are relevant for the greater U.S. Southwest.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Michael D. Sierks, msierks@ucsd.edu

Abstract

The North American monsoon (NAM) is the main driver of summertime climate variability in the U.S. Southwest. Previous studies of the NAM have primarily focused on the Tier I region of the North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME), spanning central-western Mexico, southern Arizona, and New Mexico. This study, however, presents a climatological characterization of summertime precipitation, defined as July–September (JAS), in the Lake Mead watershed, located in the NAME Tier II region. Spatiotemporal variability of JAS rainfall is examined from 1981 to 2016 using gridded precipitation data and the meteorological mechanisms that account for this variability are investigated using reanalyses. The importance of the number of wet days (24-h rainfall ≥1 mm) and extreme rainfall events (95th percentile of wet days) to the total JAS precipitation is examined and shows extreme events playing a larger role in the west and central basin. An investigation into the dynamical drivers of extreme rainfall events indicates that anticyclonic Rossby wave breaking (RWB) in the midlatitude westerlies over the U.S. West Coast is associated with 89% of precipitation events >10 mm (98th percentile of wet days) over the Lake Mead basin. This is in contrast to the NAME Tier I region where easterly upper-level disturbances such as inverted troughs are the dominant driver of extreme precipitation. Due to the synoptic nature of RWB events, corresponding impacts and hazards extend beyond the Lake Mead watershed are relevant for the greater U.S. Southwest.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Michael D. Sierks, msierks@ucsd.edu
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