Diagnosis of an Intense Atmospheric River Impacting the Pacific Northwest: Storm Summary and Offshore Vertical Structure Observed with COSMIC Satellite Retrievals

Neiman, Paul J.; Ralph, F. Martin; Wick, Gary A.; Kuo, Ying-Hwa; Wee, Tae-Kwon; Ma, Zaizhong; Taylor, George H.; Dettinger, Michael D.
November 2008
Monthly Weather Review;Nov2008, Vol. 136 Issue 11, p4398
Academic Journal
This study uses the new satellite-based Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) mission to retrieve tropospheric profiles of temperature and moisture over the data-sparse eastern Pacific Ocean. The COSMIC retrievals, which employ a global positioning system radio occultation technique combined with “first-guess” information from numerical weather prediction model analyses, are evaluated through the diagnosis of an intense atmospheric river (AR; i.e., a narrow plume of strong water vapor flux) that devastated the Pacific Northwest with flooding rains in early November 2006. A detailed analysis of this AR is presented first using conventional datasets and highlights the fact that ARs are critical contributors to West Coast extreme precipitation and flooding events. Then, the COSMIC evaluation is provided. Offshore composite COSMIC soundings north of, within, and south of this AR exhibited vertical structures that are meteorologically consistent with satellite imagery and global reanalysis fields of this case and with earlier composite dropsonde results from other landfalling ARs. Also, a curtain of 12 offshore COSMIC soundings through the AR yielded cross-sectional thermodynamic and moisture structures that were similarly consistent, including details comparable to earlier aircraft-based dropsonde analyses. The results show that the new COSMIC retrievals, which are global (currently yielding ∼2000 soundings per day), provide high-resolution vertical-profile information beyond that found in the numerical model first-guess fields and can help monitor key lower-tropospheric mesoscale phenomena in data-sparse regions. Hence, COSMIC will likely support a wide array of applications, from physical process studies to data assimilation, numerical weather prediction, and climate research.


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