Precipitation Sensitivity to Surface Heat Fluxes over North America in Reanalysis and Model Data

Berg, Alexis M.; Findell, Kirsten; Lintner, Benjamin R.; Gentine, Pierre; Kerr, Christopher

A new methodology for assessing the impact of surface heat fluxes on precipitation is applied to data from the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) and to output from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory’s Atmospheric Model 2.1 (AM2.1). The method assesses the sensitivity of afternoon convective rainfall frequency and intensity to the late-morning partitioning of latent and sensible heating, quantified in terms of evaporative fraction (EF). Over North America, both NARR and AM2.1 indicate sensitivity of convective rainfall triggering to EF but no appreciable influence of EF on convective rainfall amounts. Functional relationships between the triggering feedback strength (TFS) metric and mean EF demonstrate the occurrence of stronger coupling for mean EF in the range of 0.6 to 0.8. To leading order, AM2.1 exhibits spatial distributions and seasonality of the EF impact on triggering resembling those seen in NARR: rainfall probability increases with higher EF over the eastern United States and Mexico and peaks in Northern Hemisphere summer. Over those regions, the impact of EF variability on afternoon rainfall triggering in summer can explain up to 50% of seasonal rainfall variability. However, the AM2.1 metrics also exhibit some features not present in NARR, for example, strong coupling extending northwestward from the central Great Plains into Canada. Sources of disagreement may include model hydroclimatic biases that affect the mean patterns and variability of surface flux partitioning, with EF variability typically much lower in NARR. Finally, the authors also discuss the consistency of their results with other assessments of land–precipitation coupling obtained from different methodologies.

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Journal of Hydrometeorology

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