Dominant Factors Controlling the Hydrometeorology of Northern California: Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers and Sierra Barrier Jets
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 2:25 PM
Northern California’s Sierra Nevada and Shasta-Trinity mountains are key to the state’s water supply and can contribute to major floods in the Central Valley (CV). NOAA’s Hydrometeorology Testbed (HMT) program and the CalWater experiment have discovered much about how landfalling atmospheric rivers (AR) and Sierra Barrier Jets (SBJ) modulate orographic precipitation in that region. This presentation provides a review of recent findings, both from case-study and compositing perspectives. Wind-profiler and global-positioning-system (GPS) observations are used with soil moisture probes, stream gauges, and a regional reanalysis dataset. Key results include: Inland-directed ARs override a ~1-km-deep, Sierra-parallel SBJ located above the CV and the western slope of the Sierra. Above the developing SBJ, strengthening southwesterly flow marks the AR. The moistening SBJ reaches maximum intensity during the strongest AR flow aloft, at which time the core of the AR-parallel vapor transport slopes over the SBJ and intersects the Sierra. The SBJ then weakens with the initial cold-frontal passage aloft. A statistical analysis of orographic forcing reveals that both the AR and SBJ are crucial in determining the distribution of precipitation in the northern Sierra and Shasta-Trinity regions due to orographic precipitation enhancement. An open question remains regarding the transport of water vapor near the northern end of the CV. Namely, a portion of the AR-modulated SBJ flow may be transported through a prominent gap in the terrain between Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta, near the town of Burney. Recent analyses indicate that this gap allows AR water vapor to penetrate into the western interior (e.g., to Idaho) and thus contribute to heavy precipitation events far inland. The CalWater-2 program of field campaigns has identified diagnosis of the transport through this gap and its impact on northern California precipitation as a priority for future data collection and analysis.