CW3E Publication Notice
The Chiricahua Gap and the Role of Easterly Water Vapor Transport in Southeastern Arizona Monsoon Precipitation
Spetember 13, 2017
Click here for personal use pdf file
This study is a collaborative effort between CW3E and University of Arizona that identifies a terrain feature along the Arizona-New Mexico border just north of Mexico that is potentially important to the weather and climate of the southeast Arizona summer monsoon. The terrain feature is a “gap” that is approximately 250 km across and 1 km deep and represents the lowest terrain elevation along the 3000-km length the Continental Divide from 16-45°N. The name “Chiricahua Gap” is introduced to identify this key terrain feature, which reflects the name of a nearby mountain range in southeast Arizona and the region’s Native American history. The importance of the Chiricahua Gap is that it represents the primary pathway in which low altitude atmospheric water vapor is transported across the Continental Divide.
Motivated by identification of the Chiricahua Gap, upper-air observations from a wind profiling radar in Tucson, model reanalyses (Climate Forecast System Reanalysis), and gridded daily precipitation data (NCEP Stage-IV) are used to construct a case study and 15-year climatology to link summer monsoon rainfall events in southeast Arizona to low-altitude water vapor transport within the Chiricahua Gap. The results show that 76% of the wettest summer monsoon days in southeast Arizona during 2002-2016 occurred in conditions of low-altitude easterly water vapor transport in the Chiricahua Gap on the previous day. This result highlights how low-altitude water vapor associated with the wettest summer monsoon days in southeast Arizona originates from the east side of the Continental Divide, which differs from previous studies published since the 1970s. Much of the recent scientific literature points to southwesterly surges of low-altitude water vapor from over the Gulf of California as the primary driver of rainfall over southern Arizona during the summer monsoon. The current study by F. M. Ralph and T. J. Galarneau shows that the source region of low-altitude water vapor in southeast Arizona during the summer monsoon is potentially more complex, and is significantly influenced by source regions east of the Divide.
The paper is an example of CW3E expanding its research to examine the dynamics of the North American monsoon. Because monsoon is an important source or water for the US southwest and can cause flooding events, particularly flash floods, better understanding and improving forecasts of the North American monsoon is and important component of CW3E achieving its goal of revolutionizing the physical understanding, observations, weather predictions, of extreme events in Western North America and their impacts on floods, droughts, hydropower, ecosystems and the economy.
Figure 1: Terrain height (shaded in m) over Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas, and northern Mexico. Key terrain features are labeled in black. The location of Tucson, Arizona, is labeled by the black-filled circle. Low-altitude easterly water vapor transport through the Chiricahua Gap is shown by the blue arrows. This figure is modified from Fig. 1b in Ralph and Galarneau (2017).
CW3E Field Team Beats the Heat, Installs Meteorology and Hydrology Instruments in Russian River Watershed
September 6, 2017
A group of CW3E graduate students, postdocs, and staff worked to install soil moisture, meteorology, and streamflow instruments in the Lake Mendocino watershed August 28 – September 1. Taking extra precautions and shifting work schedules due to California’s triple-digit heat wave, the team installed three soil moisture and surface meteorology arrays and a stream gauge on ranchlands representative of the hilly topography draining into Lake Mendocino. CW3E thanks the landowners who have volunteered to have instruments installed on their properties, as well as Steve Turnbull of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for participating in the installations. Two more soil moisture and meteorology arrays and three more stream gauges are planned to be installed in the watershed prior to the 2017-18 AR season for a total of six soil moisture and meteorology arrays and six stream gauges. The data from these sites will be used to better understand AR meteorological and hydrologic impacts in this region and improve streamflow forecasts on the Russian River.
The field team after completion of the Potter Valley North site: Lindsey Jasperse, Steve Turnbull, Will Chapman, Maryam Asgari-Lamjiri, Douglas Alden, Anna Wilson and Xin Zhang. Not pictured: Julie Kalansky and Brian Henn
CW3E Publication Notice
Hourly Storm Characteristics along the U.S. West Coast: Role of Atmospheric Rivers in Extreme Precipitation
July 10, 2017
Fifty-five years of gridded hourly precipitation observations (CPC Hourly U.S. Precipitation) are used in this study to identify storm characteristics which most strongly modulate extreme storms along the U.S. West Coast. By investigating storms at fine (hourly) time scales, we showed that U.S. West Coast storm total precipitation is more strongly modulated by storm durations than by storm intensities, whereas in the Southeast U.S., storm intensities more strongly dictate the storm total precipitation (Figure 1, presented as Figure 2 in Lamjiri et al. ). This study also showed that the most extreme precipitation events along the U.S. West Coast are associated with the most persistent atmospheric rivers, rather than the high intensity ARs. Therefore, it is of high importance to improve forecast skill of the duration of storms over the U.S. West Coast, which provides valuable information that could be used to mitigate flood risks and enhance water reservoir management. More details are provided in the full manuscript, which was published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters: Lamjiri, M. A., M. D. Dettinger, F. M. Ralph, and B. Guan, 2017: Hourly storm characteristics along the U.S. West Coast: Role of atmospheric rivers in extreme precipitation, Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, doi:10.1002/2017GL074193. click here for personal use pdf file
Figure 1 Correlation coefficient of storm-precipitation totals with storm durations (a), maximum intensities (b), and average intensities(c) based on hourly precipitation observations from 1948-2002.
Gridded hourly precipitation observations over the conterminous US, from 1948 to 2002, are analyzed to determine climatological characteristics of storm precipitation totals. Despite generally lower hourly intensities, precipitation totals along the U.S. West Coast (USWC) are comparable to those in Southeast U.S. (SEUS). Storm durations, more so than hourly intensities, strongly modulate precipitation-total variability over the USWC, where the correlation coefficients between storm durations and storm totals range from 0.7 to 0.9. Atmospheric rivers (ARs) contribute 30-50% of annual precipitation on the USWC, and make such large contributions to extreme storms that 60-100% of the most extreme storms, i.e. storms with precipitation-total return intervals longer than two years, are associated with ARs. These extreme storm totals are more strongly tied to storm durations than to storm hourly or average intensities, emphasizing the importance of AR persistence to extreme storms on the USWC.
CW3E Undergraduate Researcher, Cody Poulsen, Awarded a SDEP Excellence Award
June 28, 2017
Cody Poulsen, an undergraduate student at UC San Diego pursuing a degree in Environmental Chemistry in the Environmental Systems (ESYS) Department and a minor in Digital Media, has collaborated on a research project with CW3E post-doc Scott Sellars. The project began during the summer of 2016 and was focused on using a program created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) named Video Annotation Reference Systems (VARS) to produce useable meteorological metadata. VARS was created by MBARI to aid researchers in cataloguing the occurrences of biological species and geological formations in the large amounts of underwater footage collected by their ROVs. The research continued as part of Cody’s senior thesis during which he created an Atmospheric River metadata set with VARS. During the process, he learned more about the system and its capabilities. The metadata set is comprised of annotations for the location of AR landfall and center of AR events during the Water Years (WYs) 2001 and 2011. In addition, annotations for ARs with an associated Lower Level Jet (LLJ) structure where produced for both WYs. In the case study of WYs 2001 and 2011, the metadata depicted an anomalously high amount of landfalling AR events in California/Oregon for December 2010 juxtaposed to zero landfalling events along the North American West Coast excluding Alaska for December 2000. 500-hPa average wind speeds, heights, & direction plots for the two months where created to discern the general first principal flow that might explain the different AR trajectories. With these plots, it was found that a high-pressure ridge at 180° and low pressure trough at 140°W funneled ARs onto the California/Oregon coast for December 2010. Where December 2000 had a slight high pressure ridge along the coast to produce an insignificant blocking action leading to the assumption that some other synoptic features must be at play to produce the zero-event period.
For his senior thesis, Cody produced a poster on the VARS research project and presented it at the ESYS senior symposium. The symposium was comprised of poster presentations from each of the ESYS seniors that participated in research projects/ internships over their senior year. Cody and his research were selected by San Diego Environmental Professionals (SDEP) as one of the two projects to win an excellence award.
CW3E undergraduate researcher, Cody Poulsen, presents his research using VARS at the ESYS senior symposium.