ESRL/PSD Seminar Series

PSD Flash Seminars: Impacts of upstream terrain height and integrated water vapor transport angle on resultant precipitation during an inland-penetrating atmospheric river event.

Mimi Hughes
NOAA/ESRL PSD Water Cycle Branch


This presentation documents numerical modeling experiments based on a Jan 2010 atmospheric river (AR) event that caused extreme precipitation in Arizona. The control experiment (CNTL), using the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model with 3-km grid spacing, agrees well with observations. Sensitivity experiments in which (a) model grid spacing decreases sequentially from 81 km to 3 km, and (b) upstream terrain is elevated, are used to assess the sensitivity of interior precipitation amounts and horizontal water vapor fluxes to model grid resolution and height of Baja California’s terrain. The drying ratio, a measure of airmass drying after passage across terrain, increases with Baja’s terrain height and decreases with coarsened grid spacing. Subsequently, precipitation across Arizona decreases as Baja’s terrain height increases, although it changes little with coarsened grid spacing. Northern Baja’s drying ratio is much larger than that of southern Baja. Thus ARs with a southerly orientation, with water vapor transports that can pass south of the higher mountains of northern Baja and then cross the Gulf of California, can produce large precipitation amounts in Arizona.

Further experiments are performed using a linear model of orographic precipitation (LM) for a central-Arizona-focused subdomain. The actual incidence angle of the AR (211°) is close to the optimum angle for large region-mean precipitation. Changes in region-mean precipitation amounts are small (~6%) due to AR angle changes, however much larger changes in basin-mean precipitation of up to 33% occur within the range of physically plausible AR angles tested. Larger LM precipitation sensitivity is seen with the Baja-terrain-modification experiments than with AR-angle modification.

Wednesday, Apr 30
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