Dynamics of subtropical vertical motions over the Americas during El Niño boreal winters



On the average, during boreal winter (December through February), the occurrence of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) results in enhanced or diminished precipitation in various regions of the Americas. Anomalous convective activity in the central-eastern Pacific forces quasi-stationary Rossby waves that follow paths to the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The so-called Pacific-North American (PNA) pattern results in ascending motion and enhanced precipitation over California and the Gulf of Mexico. The PNA also affects the Caribbean Sea by inhibiting winter tropical convection due to subsidence. In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), a weak quasi-stationary wave train is observed over southeast South America that results in enhanced ascending motion and precipitation. Over the equatorial region, the descending branch of a stationary Kelvin wave inhibits convective activity over northeastern Brazil and other parts of northern South America. However, there are well known differences in the El Niño signal from one event to another in what is known as inter-ENSO variability. Through quasi-geostrophic analyses, the anomalous vertical motions associated with the quasi-stationary Rossby waves may be separated from those associated with the stationary equatorial Kelvin wave. Ray tracing analyses show that quasi-stationary Rossby waves with wavenumbers 3, 4 and 5 explain part of the spatial structure of the circulation anomalies over the subtropical Americas related to the upward and downward vertical motions. The phase and amplitude of these waves depend on the structure of the mean zonal flow and the location of the anomalous convective forcing, as concluded from sensitivity experiments with a baroclinic model. An error in the simulated intensity of the mean zonal flow may result in phase shifts of the vertical motions and consequently, on errors in the simulated precipitation anomalies over the subtropical Americas. Some General Circulation Models, such as the NCAR Community Climate Model (CCM3) have this problem. Even more, a systematic bias is found in the CCM3, with weaker (stronger) than observed anomalies in extratropical (tropical) vertical motions, and consequently, in weaker (stronger) than observed precipitation anomalies. The implication of these analyses for seasonal climate predictions at a regional level in the subtropical Americas is discussed.



ENOS; Rossby waves; vertical motion; precipitation

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