Abstract

Tropical cyclones (TCs) moving into the midlatitudes can produce extreme precipitation, as was the case with Hurricane Irene (2011). Despite the high-impact nature of these events, relatively few studies have explored the sensitivity of TC precipitation forecasts to model initial conditions. Here, the physical processes that modulate precipitation forecasts over the Northeast United States during Irene are investigated using an 80-member 0.5° Global Forecasting System (GFS) ensemble. The members that forecast the highest total precipitation over the Catskill Mountains in New York (i.e., wet members) are compared with the members that predicted the least precipitation (i.e., dry members). Results indicate that the amount of rainfall is tied to storm track, with the wetter members forecast to move farther west than the dry members. This variability in storm track appears to be associated with variability in analyzed upper-tropospheric potential vorticity (PV), such that the wetter members feature greater cyclonic PV southwest of Irene when Irene is off the Carolina coast. By contrast, the wetter members of a 3-km Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model ensemble, initialized from the same GFS ensemble forecasts, show little sensitivity to track. Instead, the wetter members are characterized by stronger lower-tropospheric winds perpendicular to the eastern face of the Catskills, allowing maximum upslope forcing and horizontal moisture flux convergence during the period of heaviest rainfall. The drier members, on the other hand, have the greatest quasigeostrophic forcing for ascent, implying that the members’ differences in mesoscale topographic forcing are the dominant influence on rainfall rate.

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