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Weather and Climate Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/wcd-2020-44
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/wcd-2020-44
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  17 Sep 2020

17 Sep 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

A global climatological perspective on the importance of Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport for extreme precipitation events

Andries Jan De Vries1,2 Andries Jan De Vries
  • 1ETH Zürich, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Atmospheric Chemistry Department, Mainz, Germany

Abstract. Extreme precipitation events (EPEs) cause frequently flooding with dramatic socioeconomic impacts in many parts of the world. Previous studies considered two synoptic-scale processes, Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport, typically in isolation, and their linkage to such EPEs in several regions. This study presents for the first time a global and systematic climatological analysis of these two synoptic-scale processes, in tandem and in isolation, for the occurrence of EPEs. To this end, we use 40-year ERA-Interim reanalysis data (1979–2018) and apply object-based identification methods for (i) daily EPEs, (ii) stratospheric potential vorticity (PV) streamers as indicators of Rossby wave breaking, and (iii) structures of high vertically integrated horizontal water vapor transport (IVT). First, the importance of these two processes is demonstrated by case studies of previously documented flood events that inflicted catastrophic impacts in different parts of the world. Next, a climatological quantification shows that Rossby wave breaking is associated with > 90 % of EPEs near high topography and over the Mediterranean, intense moisture transport is linked to > 90 % of EPEs over many coastal zones, and their combined occurrence contributes to > 70 % of EPEs in several subtropical and extratropical regions. A more detailed analysis shows that a majority of EPEs associated with (1) only Rossby wave breaking are confined to higher-latitude regions that are deprived from remote moisture supplies by high topography and deserts, (2) only intense moisture transport are found circumglobally at the outer tropics, associated with tropical cyclones, tropical easterly waves, and monsoon lows, (3) combined Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport dominate a large part of the globe, in particular over dry subtropical regions where tropical-extratropical interactions are of key relevance, (4) remote, far upstream Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport occur over mountainous extratropical west coasts, reminiscent of landfalling atmospheric rivers, and (5) neither of the two synoptic-scale processes are concentrated over the inner tropics and high topography at lower latitudes, where EPEs arise under the influence of local forcing. Accordingly, different combinations of wave breaking and intense moisture transport can reflect a large range of weather systems with relevance to EPEs across various climate zones. Furthermore, the relationship between the PV and IVT characteristics and the precipitation volumes shows that the strength of the wave breaking and moisture transport intensity are intimately connected with the extreme precipitation severity. Finally, composites reveal that subtropical and extratropical EPEs, linked to Rossby wave breaking, go along with the formation of upper-level troughs and cyclogenetic processes near the surface downstream, reduced static stability beneath the upper-level forcing (only over water), and dynamical lifting ahead (over water and land). This study concludes with a concept that reconciles well-established meteorological principles with the importance of Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport for extreme precipitation events. The findings of this study may contribute to an improved understanding of the atmospheric processes that lead to EPEs, and may find application in climatic studies on extreme precipitation changes in a warming climate.

Andries Jan De Vries

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Andries Jan De Vries

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Short summary
Heavy rainfall can cause dramatic societal and economic impacts. This study presents a global perspective on the role of wave breaking and moisture transport for heavy rainfall. We demonstrate the importance of these two atmospheric processes for heavy rainfall by several flood events and then quantify this linkage in a climatological analysis. These findings can have large implications for high impact weather prediction and climate studies on extreme precipitation changes in a warming climate.
Heavy rainfall can cause dramatic societal and economic impacts. This study presents a global...
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