Characteristics of North American Summertime Rainfall with Emphasis on the Monsoon

Brant Liebmann
CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, Boulder, Colorado

Ileana Bladé
Departament d'Astronomia i Meteorologia, Facultat de Física, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Nicholas A. Bond
University of Washington, and Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Seattle, Washington

David Gochis
Research Applications Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Dave Allured and Gary T. Bates
CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, Boulder, Colorado

(Manuscript received 7 November 2006, in final form 17 May 2007)


The core region of the North American summer monsoon is examined using spatially averaged daily rainfall observations obtained from gauges, with the objective of improving understanding of its climatology and variability. At most grid points, composite and interannual variations of the onset and end of the wet season are well defined, although, among individual stations that make up a grid average, variability is large. The trigger for monsoon onset in southern and eastern Mexico appears to be related to a change in vertical velocity, while for northwestern Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico it is related to a reduction in stability, as indicated by a decrease in the lifted index. The wet-season rain rate is a combination of the wet-day rain rate, which decreases with distance from the coast, and the wet-day frequency, which is largest over the Sierra Madre Occidental. Thus the maximum total rate lies slightly to the west of the highest orography. As has been previously noted, onset is not always well correlated with total seasonal precipitation, so in these areas, variations of wet-day frequency and wet-day rain rate must be important. Correlations are small between the wet-day frequency and the wet-day rate, and the former is better correlated than the latter with the seasonal rain rate. Summer rainfall in central to southern Mexico exhibits moderate negative correlations with the leading pattern of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the equatorial Pacific, which projects strongly onto El Niño. The influence of equatorial SSTs on southern Mexico rainfall seems to operate mainly through variability of the wet-day frequency, rather than through variations of the wet-day rain rate.