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Advancing Science and Services during the 2015-16 El Niño: The NOAA El Niño Rapid Response Field Campaign

Abstract

Acting on climate forecasts in summer 2015, NOAA rapidly designed and executed the first field campaign to intensively observe atmospheric conditions over the tropical Pacific during a strong El Niño.

Forecasts by mid-2015 for a strong El Niño during winter 2015-16 presented an exceptional scientific opportunity to accelerate advances in understanding and predictions of an extreme climate event and its impacts while the event was ongoing. Seizing this opportunity, NOAA initiated an El Niño Rapid Response (ENRR), conducting the first field campaign to obtain intensive atmospheric observations over the tropical Pacific during El Niño.

The overarching ENRR goal was to determine the atmospheric response to El Niño and the implications for predicting extratropical storms and U.S. West Coast rainfall. The field campaign observations extended from the central tropical Pacific to the West Coast, with a primary focus on the initial tropical atmospheric response that links El Niño to its global impacts. NOAA deployed its Gulfstream IV (G-IV) aircraft to obtain observations around organized tropical convection and poleward convective outflow near the heart of El Niño. Additional tropical Pacific observations were obtained by radiosondes launched from Kiritimati and the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown, and in the eastern North Pacific by the NASA Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial System. These observations were all transmitted in real-time for use in operational prediction models. An X-Band radar installed in Santa Clara, CA helped characterize precipitation distributions. This suite supported an end-to-end capability extending from tropical Pacific processes to West Coast impacts. The ENRR observations were used during the event in operational predictions. They now provide an unprecedented data set for further research to improve understanding and predictions of El Niño and its impacts.

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