Flow Dependence of Medium-Range Precipitation Forecast Skill over California
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Flow Dependence of Medium-Range Precipitation Forecast Skill over California

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  • Journal Title:
    Weather and Forecasting
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    This study employs a long time series (1997–2017) of reforecasts based on a version of the ECMWF Integrated Forecast System to evaluate the dependence of medium-range (i.e., 3–15 days) precipitation forecast skill over California on the state of the large-scale atmospheric flow. As a basis for this evaluation, four recurrent large-scale flow regimes over the North Pacific and western North America associated with precipitation in a domain encompassing northern and central California were objectively identified in ECMWF ERA5 reanalysis data for November–March 1981–2017. Two of the regimes are characterized by zonal upper-level flow across the North Pacific, and the other two are characterized by wavy, blocked flow. Forecast verification statistics conditioned on regime occurrence indicate considerably lower medium-range precipitation skill over California in blocking regimes than in zonal regimes. Moreover, forecasts of blocking regimes tend to exhibit larger errors and uncertainty in the synoptic-scale flow over the eastern North Pacific and western North America compared with forecasts of zonal regimes. Composite analyses for blocking forecasts reveal a tendency for errors to develop in conjunction with the amplification of a ridge over the western and central North Pacific. The errors in the ridge tend to be communicated through the large-scale Rossby wave pattern, resulting in misforecasting of downstream trough amplification and, thereby, moisture flux and precipitation over California. The composites additionally indicate that error growth in the blocking ridge can be linked to misrepresentation of baroclinic development as well as upper-level divergent outflow associated with latent heat release. Significance Statement This study examines the degree to which the medium-range (out to ∼2-week lead time) precipitation forecast skill over California depends on the large-scale atmospheric flow regime over the North Pacific. An evaluation of retrospective model forecasts from ECMWF for 1997–2017 reveals that the skill tends to be considerably lower in regimes featuring a wavy, “blocked” North Pacific jet stream than in regimes featuring a west–east-oriented jet stream. This difference in skill relates to a tendency for forecasts of blocked regimes to exhibit significantly larger errors than forecasts of zonal regimes. The results could aid forecasters by increasing situational awareness and informing the interpretation and application of model forecasts for precipitation affecting California.
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    Weather and Forecasting, 38(5), 699-720
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