Test Beds Linking Research and Forecasting

Test Beds Linking Research and Forecasting

September 10, 2013

TestBeds Linking Research and Forecasting

A new article written by Marty Ralph and colleagues was recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society focusing on the emergence of weather-related test beds. The paper provides a brief background on how these test beds successfully bridged the gap between research and forecasting operations; summarizes test bed origins, methods and selected accomplishments; and provides a perspective on the future of test beds. A personal use copy of the paper can be obtained here.

Publication Notice: An Airborne Study of an Atmospheric River over the Subtropical Pacific during WISPAR: Dropsonde Budget-Box Diagnostics and Precipitation Impacts in Hawaii

CW3E Publication Notice

An Airborne Study of an Atmospheric River over the Subtropical Pacific during WISPAR: Dropsonde Budget-Box Diagnostics and Precipitation Impacts in Hawaii

Satellite image swath at 1921 UTC 3 Mar 2011 of IWV (cm; color scale at bottom) from the SSMIS. The unadjusted G-IV flight track is superimposed, along with dots marking the positions and times of the dropsonde releases late on 3 Mar (2007–2343 UTC) and early on 4 Mar (0003–0302 UTC) 2011. The operational rawinsonde locations at Lihue (LIH) and Hilo (ITO) on Hawaii are shown. Manually smoothed satellite-derived sea surface temperatures (8C; contours) from the Reynolds et al. (2007) daily 0.25830.258 resolution optimally interpolated infrared product are also shown. (From Neiman et al. 2014.).

The upcoming CalWater-2 experiment, which is organized by CW3E scientists and others from NOAA, NASA, DOE, USGS and elsewhere, will be using research aircraft to observe atmospheric rivers over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and U.S. West Coast. This presents an opportunity to measure atmospheric river (AR) structure and embedded physical processes that control the water vapor transport budget. This paper develops some of the key diagnostic tools needed and demonstrates them using a flight pattern and dropsondes designed to calculate the vertical profile of water vapor flux divergence (and other key parameters) in an AR. These tools and associated flight strategies will be critical to future airborne field campaigns that will enable CW3E and colleagues to diagnose key AR-relevant physical processes and to then assess in detail their representation in weather and climate models.

In 2011 a short airborne campaign was conducted to demonstrate the ability of an unmanned aircraft (Global Hawk) to fly over ARs and sample them using dropsondes. As part of this successful demonstration of UAS technology – WISPAR – a special flight of the NOAA G-IV aircraft was also conducted. The paper presents a summary of this flight, including use of drospondes from a box pattern over an AR to calculate vertical profiles of divergence, water vapor flux divergence, sensible heat flux divergence and vertical air motions. The same AR studied here also produced over 10 inches of rain on the normally dry side of the Hawaiian Islands due to the anomalous water vapor transport conditions associated with the AR hitting the region.


The Winter Storms and Pacific Atmospheric Rivers (WISPAR) experiment was carried out in January–March 2011 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Dryden Flight Research Center as a demonstration for utilizing unmanned aerial systems in meteorological research and operations over data-sparse oceans. One of the campaign’s three missions was coordinated with a manned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Gulfstream-IV (G-IV) flight out of Honolulu, Hawaii, on 3–4 March 2011. The G-IV, which flew through a developing atmospheric river (AR) west of Hawaii, represents the cornerstone observing platform for this study and provided the southernmost dropsonde observations of an AR published to date in the subtropical Northern Hemisphere. The AR exhibited characteristics comparable to those observed in previous studies farther north in the subtropics and midlatitudes, save for larger integrated water vapor and weaker winds in the AR core and stronger equatorward vapor fluxes in the shallow post-cold-frontal northeasterly flow. Eight dropsondes released in a ~200-km-wide box formation provided a novel kinematic assessment of tropospheric vorticity, divergence (mass, water vapor, sensible heat), and vertical velocity in the AR region, as well as sea surface fluxes. The budget-box diagnostics were physically consistent with global-gridded reanalysis datasets, while also providing useful additional kinematic and thermodynamic information on the mesoscale. Meteorological impacts of the AR were assessed on Hawaii’s island of Kauai, where the state’s heaviest rainfall was observed for this case. Rainfall on Kauai was modulated significantly by its steep orography, including on the normally dry side of the island where heavy rains fell.

A personal use copy of the article is available here.

Publication Notice: Chemical properties of insoluble precipitation residue particles

CW3E Publication Notice

Chemical properties of insoluble precipitation residue particles

Jessie Creamean posing for a photo while clearing snow from the top of the NOAA trailer at Sugar Pine Dam after the storm on 2/25/11.

This article provides an in-depth analysis of resuspended residues from precipitation samples collected at a remote site in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California during the 2009-2011 winter seasons. These residues may be used as a benchmark for classification of insoluble precipitation. Knowledge of the precipitation chemistry of insoluble residues coupled with meteorological and cloud microphysical measurements will ultimately improve our understanding of the link between aerosols, clouds, and precipitation.

This paper represents a significant milestone from the CalWater experiment, which is led by members of UCSD/Scripps’ new Centers on aerosols (CAICE) and extreme events (CW3E), as well as NOAA, DOE, NASA, USGS. It also highlights the multi-disciplinary research stimulated by CalWater, and the partnerships between key researchers across organizations. The lead author, Jessie Creamean, received her PhD in atmospheric chemistry from UCSD under Kim Prather using CalWater data, and is now bringing that expertise to a primarily meteorological group in NOAA as she pursues emerging topics in aerosol-precipitation interactions in collaboration with CW3E scientists.

A personal use copy of the article is available here.

CalWater-ACAPEX 2015 Planning Workshop

CalWater-ACAPEX 2015 Planning Workshop

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

La Jolla, California

CalWater 2 Co-Leads: Marty Ralph, Kim Prather, Dan Cayan (Scripps)

Organizing Committee: Chris Fairall (NOAA), Ruby Leung (PNNL), Andrew Martin (Scripps), Ryan Spackman (NOAA/STC)

CalWater2 – ACAPEX Observational Strategy Winter 2014-15

CalWater-2 took major steps from vision to reality on 22-24 April 2014 at Scripps Institution of Oceanography when roughly 40 key individuals (scientists, engineers, aircraft and ship managers, and students) met to plan for major field deployments in 2015. The following facilities are committed (or nearly so) to a field campaign between roughly 10 January and 10 March 2015:

  • DOE – G-1 aircraft
  • DOE AMF-2 ocean-atmosphere facility on the NOAA Research Vessel (ship) Ron Brown
  • NOAA G-IV aircraft
  • NOAA P-3 aircraft
  • ATOFMS mobile, land-based aerosol-sensor suite
  • EFREP hydrometeorological Mesonetwork in California

The DOE facilities are part of the ARM Cloud Aerosol Precipitation Experiment (ACAPEX) experiment addressing (1) aerosol impacts on clouds and precipitation and (2) atmospheric rivers. The NOAA facilities were requested also based on the CalWater vision, with an emphasis on atmospheric-river science questions.

The workshop concluded with a plan for specific start and end dates for each facility, narrowed options for where to operate them, a plan for a field operations center (and a specific possible location), strategies for developing coordinated ship and aircraft operations, and plans for the forecasting capabilities needed to guide missions. In addition, the 12-member CalWater Core Scientific Steering Group met afterword and reviewed plans for 2016-2018 and strategies to advance the longer term Calwater Vision. The Steering Group committed to organizing two special sessions and a side meeting (for last minute coordinations of the 2015 CalWater and ACAPEX activities) at the Fall Meeting of AGU in December 2014, and a journal article describing the program. The proposed AGU sessions are:

  1. CalWater Theme 1: Cloud-Aerosol-Precipitation Interactions in California (Conveners: Daniel Rosenfeld, Kimberly Prather),
  2. Atmospheric Rivers: Observations, Dynamics, Modeling, Impacts and Applications (Conveners: Marty Ralph, Duane Waliser, Jason Cordeira).

The presentations from the Workshop are available here.

Workshop Sponsored by:

  • Scripps, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E)
  • Scripps Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE)
  • Science and Technology Corporation (STC)

Workshop Sponsored by:Workshop Participants

Photo of most workshop participants at the CalWater 2015 – ACAPEX workshop at Scripps, April 2014.

CalWater2 Workshop Participants

ARs Play Role in Greenland Melt Episodes

Atmospheric Rivers Play Key Role in Rare Greenland Melt Episodes

Integrated Water Vapor (IWV) impacting Greenland on July 9, 2012 based on data from the 20th Century Reanalysis.

Researchers at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes here at Scripps have published a new article examining the processes responsible for the unusual melting episode in Greenland during the summer of 2012 when temperatures at the summit of Greenland rose above freezing for the first time since 1889. They found a number of climate factors were present in both 1889 and 2012 including strong atmospheric rivers transporting warm, moist air towards Greenland’s west coast. The research article was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres.

A more in depth news story on this research can be found on the Scripps website.

A personal use copy of the article is available here.

Vision for future observations of extreme events in Western US

Vision for Future Observations of Extreme Precipitation and Flooding in the Western U.S.

A journal article entitled: A Vision for Future Observations for Western U.S. Extreme Precipitation and Flooding, by CW3E Director F. Martin Ralph and colleagues was recently published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education

The paper describes how new technologies and paradigms using the most recent technological and scientific advances can be used to better monitor and predict extreme storms that lead to flooding in the Western U.S. The strategy is intended to add new technology to existing observational networks rather than replacement. The full journal article can be accessed here.

Schematic network of new sensors (land-based) to improve monitoring, prediction, and climate trend detection for hydrometeorological conditions that create extreme precipitation and flooding.

Atmospheric Rivers as Drought Busters

Atmospheric Rivers: Drought Busters

Drought status in California before and after two atmospheric river events in January 2010 (middle panel shows precipitation from these systems over 20 inches in some areas).

Climate.gov recently highlighted CW3E researcher Mike Dettinger’s work looking at atmospheric rivers as drought busters (click here to see the climate.gov post). Mike’s article “Atmospheric Rivers as Drought Busters on the US West Coast” was published in December 2013 in the AMS Journal of Hydrometeorology (find a link to this article on the CW3E publications page or click here). Given the dry conditions that have persisted over the last few years causing severe to extreme drought over the US West this article has received well-deserved attention. The climate.gov piece highlights the impact of an atmospheric river storm from January of 2010. This image (shown above) illustrates the drought conditions before the storm (left panel), the amount of precipitation from the storm (middle panel – showing some areas had over 20 inches of precipitation!) and the drought conditions after the storm (right panel – showing the moderate and severe drought region greatly reduced).

Dust storms: enhancing California’s precipitation

Dust Storms: enhancing California’s precipitation

Dust, as shown by orange colors, in a storm approaching California on 24 February 2014. (NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System)

As CW3E continues to investigate rainfall over California from Atmospheric River storms, other researchers examine the same storms to evaluate the role of dust in enhancing precipitation amounts. A recent KQED story examines the work of Dr. Kim Prather (UCSD; atmospheric chemist). Dr. Prather evaluates the role of dust from storms over Africa and Asia that reach the California coast in 7-10 days. The high altitude particles have been found to increase the amount of rain and snowfall when they coincide with approaching coastal storms. See more on the story (including an audio piece) at: http://blogs.kqed.org/science/audio/drought-distant-dust-storms-matter-to-california-rainfall/

Scripps Researchers Take Flight

Scripps and NOAA Researchers Take Flight to Observe Atmospheric River

IWV Feb 5-10, 2014

Integrated Water Vapor GFS Analysis Feb 5-10, 2014.

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and NOAA are taking part in research flights to observe a distinctive type of storm system that has historically provided significant precipitation to California.

Scientists tracked the evolution of “atmospheric rivers,” narrow corridors of strong water vapor transport that can extend thousands of miles, as they made landfall in central California in early February. Atmospheric rivers (ARs), identified by researchers only in recent decades, can provide beneficial water supply and snowpack to the West Coast as well as create conditions for dangerous floods that affect lives and property. NOAA, Scripps, USGS, and other agency/institution researchers, working with water managers for the state, Sonoma County, and elsewhere, are studying them with the goal of providing better information for earlier and more accurate extreme weather forecasts. Scripps and USGS scientists are also looking at how atmospheric rivers may serve as “drought busters” and how climate change may affect atmospheric rivers in future decades.

Scripps researchers said that the February storms provided some relief, but would likely not reverse the dangerous drought conditions throughout California and the West that have built up over the last three years.

“Part of the reason for the drought has been the absence of atmospheric river storms hitting the region over the last year,” said Scripps climate researcher Marty Ralph. “From Feb. 7-10, a series of modest strength ARs hit Northern California, including near San Francisco and the northern Sierra where AR conditions stalled for up to 48 hours. These conditions created up to 12-15 inches of rain in three days, including in areas hit by the drought. This was more than double the precipitation in Northern California that had fallen in the first four months of the normal wet season. Nonetheless, the extreme drought has produced such a deficit in water that the soils absorbed much of the precipitation and rivers quickly receded to levels that are again well below normal, even though they reached fairly high levels during the storm.”

Ralph heads the Center for Western Water and Weather Extremes (CW3E), a new center established at Scripps Oceanography that is devoted to California’s special precipitation characteristics. At the core of the center will be a unique advanced network of monitoring stations throughout the state to help industries and 38 million California residents understand phenomena that affect the economy and everyday life in myriad ways.

The network, built over the last five years by NOAA and Scripps through support from California’s Department of Water Resources, will initially contain four atmospheric river observatories, monitoring stations located in Northern and central California that measure amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere and other climate variables.

“NOAA is very interested in improving our forecasts of extreme weather events, and atmospheric rivers rank with hurricanes as a major issue,” said Chris Fairall, chief of the Weather and Climate Physics branch of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “The West Coast relies on them for water, but it really is like trying to drink from the proverbial firehose. This new research collaboration on atmospheric rivers with Scripps and UC San Diego is a big step in attacking the problem.”

For this event, Ralph, Fairall, and colleagues gathered data aboard a NOAA Gulfstream IV aircraft that began flying over the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast on Feb. 7. During the flights, researchers measured several atmospheric properties at several locations along and across the atmospheric river corridor to better understand key processes, such as where the water vapor sources are and how they are sustained by storm dynamics.

Aboard the aircraft, researchers released small parachuted devices, called dropsondes, across the atmospheric river over the Pacific Ocean. As they descend, the dropsondes measure atmospheric conditions, such as pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and transmit the information back to the aircraft where a flight scientist uses it to guide the mission. After the dropsonde data are analyzed and processed, the information will be put into a standard format established by the World Meteorological Organization and provided to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center for inclusion in global and local-scale weather prediction models.

Mike Dettinger, a CW3E team member and research hydrologist with Scripps and the U.S. Geological Survey, noted that atmospheric rivers provide 30 to 50 percent of the precipitation in California and are behind 80 percent of the floodplain inundations along parts of the Central Valley where those inundations are a necessary part of ecosystem food webs and fish nurseries. They figure prominently in the ending of California droughts but also in taxing Northern California levees and other components of the state’s water delivery infrastructure.

“Thus, better understanding of how atmospheric rivers work and how they may change in the future is critical to better water, floods, and ecosystem management and to plans for adapting to future climate changes,” Dettinger said.

Jay Jasperse, chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which provides water to 600,000 people and many agricultural users, said of the February storms, “although this AR may not be the strongest ever, it is certainly the most welcome.”

Results from this study will help guide atmospheric river research for the upcoming CalWater 2 experiment, which begins in 2015 and will use land-based stations and a research ship as well as multiple aircraft.