Interannual Variability of the Cyclonic Activity along the U.S. Pacific Coast: Influences on the Characteristics of Winter Precipitation in the Western United States

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This study examines the observed interannual variability of the cyclonic activity along the U.S. Pacific coast and quantifies its impact on the characteristics of both the winter total and extreme precipitation in the western United States. A cyclonic activity function (CAF) was derived from a dataset of objectively identified cyclone tracks in 27 winters (1979/80–2005/06). The leading empirical orthogonal function (EOF1) of the CAF was found to be responsible for the EOF1 of the winter precipitation in the western United States, which is a monopole mode centered over the Pacific Northwest and northern California. On the other hand, the EOF2 of the CAF contributes to the EOF2 of the winter precipitation, which indicates that above-normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and its immediate inland regions tends to be accompanied by below-normal precipitation in California and the southwestern United States and vice versa. The first two EOFs of CAF (precipitation) account for about 70% (78%) of the total interannual variance of CAF (precipitation). The second EOF modes of both the CAF and precipitation are significantly linked to the ENSO signal on interannual time scales. A composite analysis further reveals that the leading CAF modes increase (decrease) the winter total precipitation by increasing (decreasing) both the number of rainy days per winter and the extremeness of precipitation. The latter was quantified in terms of the 95th percentile of the daily rain rate and the probability of precipitation being heavy given a rainy day. The implications of the leading CAF modes for the water resources and the occurrence of extreme hydrologic events in the western United States, as well as their dynamical linkages to the Pacific storm track and various atmospheric low-frequency modes (i.e., teleconnection patterns), are also discussed.


This article was originally published in Journal of Climate, volume 22, in 2009. DOI: 10.1175/2009JCLI2889.1

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