Large-Scale Weather Regimes and Local Climate over the Western United States

Robertson, Andrew W.; Ghil, Michael

Weather regimes are used to determine changes in the statistical distribution of winter precipitation and temperature at eight locations within the western United States. Six regimes are identified from daily 700-mb heights during 46 winters (1949–95) over the North Pacific sector applying cluster analysis; these include the Pacific–North American (PNA) pattern, reverse-PNA, a tropical–Northern Hemisphere (TNH) regime, and a Pacific Ω block. Most of the regimes have a statistically significant effect on the local median temperature, as well as daily temperature extremes; differences between locations are secondary to the large-scale effects. Local precipitation frequency is also conditioned significantly by certain weather regimes, but differences between groups of locations are larger. Precipitation extremes are dispersed and hard to classify. The dependence of local temperature statistics on the warm- or cold-air advection associated with particular weather regimes is discussed, as is the dependence of precipitation anomalies on the regimes' displaced storm tracks. The extent to which the El Niño–Southern Oscillation modulates the probability of occurrence of each of the six weather regimes is then investigated. Warm event (El Niño) winters are found to be associated with a significant increase in prevalence of a TNH regime, in which negative height anomalies exhibit a northwest–southeast tilt over the North Pacific. During La Niña winters, this TNH regime occurs significantly less frequently, while a regime characterized by a ridge over southwestern North America becomes more prevalent. These two regimes are associated with regional precipitation-frequency anomalies of opposite sign, that contribute to a north–south contrast in precipitation anomalies over the western United States during El Niño and La Niña winters. On interdecadal timescales, the frequency-of-occurrence of the PNA pattern is found to be notably higher during the 1970s and early 1980s.

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Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
August 14, 2012