Influence of Large-scale Climate Modes on Atmospheric Rivers That Drive Regional Precipitation Extremes
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are narrow channels of enhanced meridional water vapor transport between the tropics and extratropics that drive precipitation extremes in the west coast areas of North America and other continents. The influence of large-scale climate modes on ARs is analyzed in terms of modulation on AR frequency and AR-related snow water equivalent (SWE) anomalies, with a focus on understanding the causes of the anomalously snowy winter season of 2010/2011 in California's Sierra Nevada. Mean SWE on 1 April 2011 was ~70% above normal averaged over 100 snow sensors. AR occurrence was anomalously high during the season, with 20 AR dates from November to March and 14 dates in the month of December 2010, compared to the mean occurrence of 9 dates per season. Most of the season's ARs occurred during negative phases of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and the Pacific-North American (PNA) teleconnection pattern. Analysis of all winter ARs in California during water years 1998–2011 indicates more ARs occur during the negative phase of AO and PNA, with the increase between positive and negative phases being ~90% for AO, and ~50% for PNA. The circulation pattern associated with concurrent negative phases of AO and PNA, characterized by cyclonic anomalies centered northwest of California, provides a favorable dynamical condition for ARs. The analysis suggests that the massive Sierra Nevada snowpack during the 2010/2011 winter season is primarily related to anomalously high frequency of ARs favored by the joint phasing of −AO and −PNA, and that a secondary contribution is from increased snow accumulation during these ARs favored by colder air temperatures associated with −AO, −PNA and La Niña. The results have implications for subseasonal-to-seasonal predictability of AR activities and related weather and water extremes.