Mesoscale Frontal Wave AR during CalWater-2014

CW3E Publication Notice

An Airborne and Ground-Based Study of a Long-Lived and Intense Atmospheric River with Mesoscale Frontal Waves Impacting California during CalWater-2014

May 10, 2016

Neiman, P.J., B.J. Moore, A.B. White, G.A. Wick, J. Aikins, D.L. Jackson, J.R Spackman, and F.M. Ralph, 2016: An Airborne and Ground-Based Study of a Long-Lived and Intense Atmospheric River with Mesoscale Frontal Waves Impacting California during CalWater-2014. Mon. Wea. Rev., 144, 1115-1144.

This study provides the most comprehensive observations to date of a mesoscale frontal wave associated with an atmospheric river, including its structure offshore, landfall characteristics and impacts on precipitation. It utilizes research aircraft, a unique array of coastal hydrometeorological measurements and inland data. This paper reflects the broader scientific collaboration between CW3E and NOAA/PSD, and adds to the knowledge of phenomena that are critical to creating extreme precipitation on the U.S. West Coast – a major thrust of CW3E. Dr. Ralph contributed to this paper by proposing the experiment (Ralph et al. 2016 BAMS), identifying the science objective for the flights (i.e., mapping out the structure of a mesoscale frontal wave with dropsondes and airborne radar), laying out the flight tracks, guiding the mission onboard, having been the PI of the major projects that created the unique land-based observing network (NOAA HMT- Ralph et al. 2013 BAMS, and the DWR-sponsored EFREP mesonet – White et al. 2013 JTech) used in the study and contributing to the analysis and interpretation of the measurements in this paper.

Contacts: Paul Neiman (paul.j.neiman@noaa.gov) and F. Martin Ralph (mralph@ucsd.edu)

Abstract

The wettest period during the CalWater-2014 winter field campaign occurred with a long-lived, intense atmospheric river (AR) that impacted California on 7–10 February. The AR was maintained in conjunction with the development and propagation of three successive mesoscale frontal waves. Based on Lagrangian trajectory analysis, moist air of tropical origin was tapped by the AR and was subsequently transported into California. Widespread heavy precipitation (200–400 mm) fell across the coastal mountain ranges northwest of San Francisco and across the northern Sierra Nevada, although only modest flooding ensued due to anomalously dry antecedent conditions. A NOAA G-IV aircraft flew through two of the frontal waves in the AR environment offshore during a ;24-h period. Parallel dropsonde curtains documented key three dimensional thermodynamic and kinematic characteristics across the AR and the frontal waves prior to landfall. The AR characteristics varied, depending on the location of the cross section through the frontal waves. A newly implemented tail-mounted Doppler radar on the G-IV simultaneously captured coherent precipitation features. Along the coast, a 449-MHz wind profiler and collocated global positioning system (GPS) receiver documented prolonged AR conditions linked to the propagation of the three frontal waves and highlighted the orographic character of the coastal-mountain rainfall with the waves’ landfall. Avertically pointing S-PROF radar in the coastal mountains provided detailed information on the bulk microphysical characteristics of the rainfall. Farther inland, a pair of 915-MHz wind profilers and GPS receivers quantified the orographic precipitation forcing as the AR ascended the Sierra Nevada, and as the terrain-induced Sierra barrier jet ascended the northern terminus of California’s Central Valley.

Publication Notice: Predictability of Horizontal Water Vapor Transport Relative to Precipitation

CW3E Publication Notice

Predictability of Horizontal Water Vapor Transport Relative to Precipitation: Enhancing Situational Awareness for Forecasting Western U.S. Extreme Precipitation and Flooding

March, 2016

Lavers, D.A., D.E. Waliser, F.M. Ralph and M.D. Dettinger, 2016: Predictability of horizontal water vapor transport relative to precipitation: Enhancing situational awareness for forecasting western U.S. extreme precipitation and flooding. Geophysical Research Letters, 43, doi:10.1002/2016GL067765 (Please click here for personal use pdf file)

The following paper has just appeared in Geophysical Research Letters. It was motivated by the critical role of horizontal vapor transport in determining the strength and distribution of extreme precipitation in the Western U.S., and by the fact that this transport is the defining characteristic of atmospheric rivers, which are key to many extreme events in the region. The work was carried out primarily at CW3E in response to interest from State and local water agencies to explore new methods to predict extreme precipitation events. While the findings are based on U.S. West Coast domains, the results are applicable to other west coasts of mid latitude continents where cool season orographic precipitation is a key process. The results support the use of water vapor transport as a variable to monitor for earlier awareness of extreme hydrometeorological events.

(e) The average interannual predictability (r2) across the 30°N–50°N, 125°W–120°W region. (f) The predictability throughout the forecast horizon calculated using all winter forecasts (n = 2796) at 38°N, 122°W. From Lavers et al. (2016).

Contacts: David Lavers (david.lavers@ecmwf.int) and F. Martin Ralph (mralph@ucsd.edu)

Abstract

The western United States is vulnerable to socioeconomic disruption due to extreme winter precipitation and floods. Traditionally, forecasts of precipitation and river discharge provide the basis for preparations. Herein we show that earlier event awareness may be possible through use of horizontal water vapor transport (integrated vapor transport (IVT)) forecasts. Applying the potential predictability concept to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction global ensemble reforecasts, across 31 winters, IVT is found to be more predictable than precipitation. IVT ensemble forecasts with the smallest spreads (least forecast uncertainty) are associated with initiation states with anomalously high geopotential heights south of Alaska, a setup conducive for anticyclonic conditions and weak IVT into the western United States. IVT ensemble forecasts with the greatest spreads (most forecast uncertainty) have initiation states with anomalously low geopotential heights south of Alaska and correspond to atmospheric rivers. The greater IVT predictability could provide warnings of impending storminess with additional lead times for hydrometeorological applications.

CW3E R-Cat Alerts

CW3E R-Cat Alerts: Automated Notification of Heavy Precipitation Events

March 10, 2016

The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) has set up an automated e-mail notification service that informs users of heavy precipitation events in near real-time. Along the West Coast, such events are often the result of land-falling atmospheric rivers, which transport substantial moisture into the area. Tracking, analyzing, improving the forecasting, and anticipating the impacts of such extreme events are a core element of CW3E’s mission.

The “Rainfall Category” or “R-Cat” 3-day precipitation classification of Ralph and Dettinger (2012) is a simple, effective measure of strong precipitation events, which can have a large impact on the Western U.S.:

R-Cat 1: 200-299 mm (roughly 8-12 inches) / 3 days

R-Cat 2: 300-399 mm (roughly 12-16 inches) / 3 days

R-Cat 3: 400-499 mm (roughly 16-20 inches) / 3 days

R-Cat 4: more than 500 mm (more than roughly 20 inches) / 3 days

An R-cat email alert includes a short summary of the 3-day total precipitation, location of the event (based on sources such as the Global Historical Climatology Network [GHCN] and the National Weather Service’s co-op precipitation stations), and a map showing the location of the event(s). Here is a recent example:

————————————————————————————————————
Station: BRUSH CREEK RS USC00041130
Location: (39.695, -121.345)
Date: 2016/03/07 (third day of event)
Event strength: R-Cat 1
3-day total precip (mm): 206.3
Individual days precip (mm): 76.5 102.1 27.7
 
————————————————————————————————————
Station: QUINCY USC00047195
Location: (39.937, -120.948)
Date: 2016/03/07 (third day of event)
Event strength: R-Cat 1
3-day total precip (mm): 202.7
Individual days precip (mm): 59.7 119.9 23.1

The email R-Cat alert service can be subscribed to by sending a message with the subject line “subscribe” to rcatalert@cirrus.ucsd.edu.

For more information, please contact David Pierce, dpierce@ucsd.edu.

CW3E AR Update: 10-11 March 2016 Outlook

CW3E AR Update – 10-11 March 2016 Outlook

March 10, 2016

A storm predicted to make landfall over northern California on 10 March 2016 has characteristics of an Atmospheric River. The AR is showing weak-to-moderate strength with an average landfall duration of 12-24 hours. This AR is about 75% as strong as the last significant AR landfall over northern California (March 5-6, 2016). The storm has the slight potential for R-Cat 1 rainfall in favored mountain areas. For up to date AR forecasts visit the CW3E AR Portal.



CW3E AR Update: 5-7 March 2016 Outlook

CW3E AR Update – 5-7 March 2016 Outlook

March 4, 2016

A storm predicted to make landfall over northern California on 5 March 2016 has characteristics of an Atmospheric River. The AR is showing moderate strength with an average landfall duration of 12-24 hours. The storm has the potential for R-Cat 1 rainfall in favored mountain areas. For up to date AR forecasts visit the CW3E AR Portal.


CW3E AR Update: 3 March 2016 Outlook

CW3E AR Update: 3 March 2016 Outlook

March 3, 2016

CW3E gives an outlook on current and upcoming Atmospheric River (AR) events along the U.S. West Coast. A moderate AR is currently impacting central California producing light precipitation over the northern Sierra Nevada and Central Valley. Two ARs are expected to make landfall over the Pacific Northwest in the next seven days, with both propagating south over California prior to dissipation. Long range forecasts also show the potential for another strong AR to make landfall in the Pacific Northwest next week.

For the latest river and precipitation forecasts and observations visit the California Nevada River Forecast Center (CNRFC) or the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). For the latest AR forecasts visit the CW3E AR Portal.

Click here for a pdf file of this information.


 

Current Conditions: 3/3/2016
Northeast Pacific SSMI IWV: 1400 UTC 29 Feb 2016 – 1400 UTC 3 March 2016


 
GPS Integrated Water Vapor: 1515 UTC 3 March 2016
 
 
 
   
IWV values greater than 2 cm
throughout central California
-Current AR conditions

Current California Precipitation Conditions
The North Sierra 8-Station and Tulare Basin 6-Station Precipitation Indices are average for this time of year.


 

 
Forecasts
AR Landfall Probability Tool: Initialized 0000 UTC 3 March 2016
Hover mouse over description below to see forecast product or click to open. Images courtesy Jason Cordeira; Plymouth State University

IVT >250 kg m-1 s-1
IVT >500 kg m-1 s-1
Inland IVT >250 kg m-1 s-1
Inland IVT >500 kg m-1 s-1

  • Periods of AR conditions forecasted along most the U.S. West Coast on forecast days 0-1, 1-2, 2-5 and 4-5
  • Strong probability of AR event on forecast days 7-8
  • All forecasted ARs are expected to penetrate inland over Oregon and northern California


 


 
CNRFC River Forecasts
2000 UTC 3 March 2016
 
 

  • 1 river forecasted above flood stage
     -Navarro River
  • 7 rivers forecasted above monitor stage

    Russian River CNRFC Forecast


     
    GFS Ensemble MJO Index Forecast; 3 March 2016 – 17 March 2016

     

    • A continuation of MJO activity is expected
    • Propagation through Phases 8 and 1 and possibly 2
    • Significant decrease in amplitude

    GFS IWV: 0600 UTC 3 March 2016 – 1800 UTC 10 March 2016
     
      >

    • AR currently impacting northern and central California
    • AR to make landfall at 1800 UTC 4 March 2016 over NW Pacific
    • AR to make landfall at 0600 UTC 9 March 2016 over NW Pacific
    • All three ARs propagate south over California prior to dissipation

    GFS IVT: 0600 UTC 3 March 2016 – 1800 UTC 10 March 2016
     



     
    CNFRC Precipitation Forecasts: Produced 3 March 2016

    Max 72-h precip >6 inches over Northern Sierra Nevada and California Coastal Range
    Max 6-day precip ~11 inches over Northern Sierra Nevada and California Coastal Range

     
    7-day Precipitation Forecasts: Ending 4:00 am PST 10 March 2016

    Max 7-day precip ~290 mm over Northern Sierra Nevada, Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island
    Max 7-day precip ~270 mm over Northern Sierra Nevada, Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island


     

     
     

    Summary

    • Current dissipating AR impacting central California
    • Two moderate strength ARs expected to make landfall along the U.S. West Coast over the next five days
    • Another AR may potentially make landfall late next week
    • 7-day precipitation totals up to 300 mm in multiple locations over the U.S. West Coast


    For more information about AR updates or forecast products visit the CW3E Home Page or contact Brian Kawzenuk, Marty Ralph, or Scott Sellars at CW3E.

    The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang features CW3E and Atmospheric River Field Mission

    The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang features CW3E and Atmospheric River Field Mission

    February 18, 2016

    The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang today (18 February 2016) featured the current observing missions happening over the eastern Pacific as coordinated by CW3E director Dr. F. Martin Ralph. Current missions are starting from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and include some 800-mile transects. Critical information about water vapor distribution and winds are gathered during these flights and are used as initial conditions in global forecast models. The article highlights several quotes from CW3E director Ralph including the importance of pin-pointing the landfall of an Atmospheric River. Regarding forecast uncertainty: “Where it hits is off by an average of plus or minus 500 kilometers,” Ralph said. “An atmospheric river is 500 kilometers wide, so the error can mean the difference of whether you’re hit or not.”

    Find the full article at The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang page: here.

    State-of-the-art WC-130J aircraft for weather reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is a C-130J transport configured with palletized weather instrumentation for penetration of tropical disturbances and storms, hurricanes and winter storms to obtain data on movement, size and intensity.The WC-130J carries a minimal crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, aerial reconnaissance weather officer and weather reconnaissance loadmaster. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

    Reconnaissance Flights Into Atmospheric Rivers Aim To Improve West Coast Storm Predictions

    Reconnaissance Flights Into Atmospheric Rivers Aim To Improve West Coast Storm Predictions

    February 13, 2016

    Scripps Oceanography, NOAA, U.S. Air Force team up on flights through atmospheric rivers this month, starting with flights on Saturday 13 February into a moderate strength AR between Hawaii, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Although of only moderate strength, this AR is likely to stall somewhere in the WA-OR area, creating a long-duration AR landfall. The long duration of landfall is key to determining whether the AR produces extreme rainfall and possibly flooding, or is more of a benefit to water supply and snow pack. Details in the AR conditions offshore, that are not represented accurately in the “initial conditions” needed for weather prediction limit the skill of forecasts of AR landfall duration and intensity. The flights today, one from Hawaii, and one from Tacoma WA, are aimed at reducing that uncertainty.

    Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego have developed a new method for improving atmospheric river (AR) forecasts that is being used for the first time in National Weather Service-directed flights over the Pacific Ocean.

    Scientist F. Martin Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps, said the observations made aboard two U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft later this month are aimed at improving forecasters’ ability to say exactly where storms will make landfall. Current forecasts of landfall location of ARs made one to three days in advance are typically off by 300 kilometers (200 miles).

    Contact: F. Martin Ralph (CW3E Director, and PI of the C-130 AR Recon Mission)

    Setting the Stage for a Global Science of Atmospheric Rivers

    Setting the Stage for a Global Science of Atmospheric Rivers

    January 25, 2016

    The above image, from the EOS article, is a depiction of an atmospheric river, interacting with West Coast mountains and a midlatitude cyclone over the northeast Pacific on 5 February 2015. This image provides an example of approximate locations of associated tropical moisture exports and a warm conveyor belt (WCB). Credit: Adapted from NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division

    An EOS article from CW3E scientists Dettinger, Ralph and Lavers summarizes key outcomes from a unique workshop held at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in June 2015. The Workshop brought together leading scientists and users of scientific outputs to discuss emerging advances in Atmospheric River (AR) science and applications. A “Meeting Report” about the workshop appeared in print in the EOS issue published on 1 January 2016: Click here to acccess the report.

    Points of contact: F.M. Ralph (mralph@ucsd.edu), M.D. Dettinger (mddettin@usgs.gov), and D. Lavers (dlavers@ucsd.edu) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.

    AR storms impact northern California: January 12-15

    AR storms impact northern California: January 12-15

    January 15, 2016

    DRI/CW3E researcher Nina Oakley, CW3E researcher Scott Sellars and other CW3E team members evaluate two storms that had an impact on northern California as well as the Pacific Northwest from 12-15 January 2016. Fresh Sierra snow can be seen in the cover satellite image from Friday, January 15 (courtesy NWS Sacramento). The approaching clouds from the next series of storms can be seen approaching the coast as well as valley fog in the Sacramento region. The first storm event leading to this fresh snow was a moderate atmospheric river (AR) storm with 1 to over 4 inches of precipitation from northern California to the Canadian border. The second storm event was weaker and ahead of a larger scale AR that will impact the same region from 15-18 January 2016. The weaker event spun off the Aleutian Low and produced some areas of heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. An outlook for the upcoming AR event for 15-18 January is also briefly examined.

    Click here for a pdf file of this information.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Above is a sequence of SSMI water vapor imagery from 10-13 January 2016 which shows the AR propagating towards northern California and making landfall.


     

     

     

     

     

     

    Above is a sequence of SSMI water vapor imagery from 12-15 January 2016 which shows the first AR making landfall and the dissipation of the second AR as it approaches land.