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Fronts and Surface Boundaries


Chapter 1. Surface Boundaries of the Southern Plains: Their Role in the Initiation of Convective Storms

The nature of the different types of surface boundaries that appear in the southern plains of the United States during the convectively active season is reviewed. The following boundaries are discussed: fronts, the dryline, troughs, and outflow boundaries. The boundaries are related to their environment and to local topography. The role these boundaries might play in the initiation of convective storms is emphasized. The various types of boundary-related vertical circulations and their dynamics are discussed. In particular, quasigeostrophic and semigeostrophic dynamics, and the dynamics of solenoidal circulations, density currents, boundary layers, and gravity waves are considered.
Miscellaneous topics pertinent to convective storms and their relationship to surface boundaries such as along-the- boundary variability, boundary collisions, and the role of vertical shear are also discussed. Although some cases of storm initiation along surface boundaries have been well documented using research datasets collected during comprehensive field experiments, much of what we know is based only on empirical forecasting and nowcasting experience. It is suggested that many problems relating to convective-storm formation need to be explored in detail using real datasets with new observing systems and techniques, in conjunction with numerical simulation studies, and through climatological studies.
Howard B. Bluestein

Chapter 2. Strong Surface Fronts over Sloping Terrain and Coastal Plains

This paper begins with a review of basic surface frontogenesis concepts with an emphasis on fronts located over sloping terrain adjacent to mountain barriers and fronts located in large-scale baroclinic zones close to coastlines. The impact of cold-air damming and differential diabatic heating and cooling on frontogenesis is considered through two detailed case studies of intense surface fronts. The first case, from 17 to 18 April 2002, featured the westward passage of a cold (side-door) front across coastal eastern New England in which 15°– 20°C temperature decreases were observed in less than one hour. The second case, from 28 February to 4 March 1972, featured a long-lived front that affected most of the United States from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast and was noteworthy for a 50°C temperature contrast between Kansas and southern Manitoba, Canada.
In the April 2002 case most of New England was initially covered by an unusually warm, dry air mass. Dynamical anticyclogenesis over eastern Canada set the stage for a favorable pressure gradient to allow chilly marine air to approach coastal New England from the east. Diabatic cooling over the chilly (5°–8°C) waters of the Gulf of Maine allowed surface pressures to remain relatively high offshore while diabatic heating over the land (31°–33°C temperatures) enabled surface pressures to fall relative to over the ocean. The resulting higher pressures offshore resulted in an onshore cold push. Frontal intensity was likely enhanced prior to leaf out and grass green-up as virtually all of the available insolation went into sensible heating.
The large-scale environment in the February–March 1972 case favored the accumulation of bitterly cold arctic air in Canada. Frontal formation occurred over northern Montana and North Dakota as the arctic air moved slowly southward in conjunction with surface pressure rises east of the Canadian Rockies. The arctic air accelerated southward subsequent to lee cyclogenesis-induced pressure falls ahead of an upstream trough that crossed the Rockies. The southward acceleration of the arctic air was also facilitated by dynamic anticyclogenesis in southern Canada beneath a poleward jet-entrance region. Frontal intensity varied diurnally in response to differential diabatic heating. Three types of cyclogenesis events were observed over the lifetime of the event: 1) low-amplitude frontal waves with no upper-level support, 2) low-amplitude frontal waves that formed in a jet-entrance region, and 3) cyclones that formed ahead of advancing upper-level troughs. All cyclones were either nondeveloping or weak developments despite extreme baroclinicity, likely the result of large atmospheric static stability in the arctic frontal zone and unfavorable alongfront stretching deformation. Significant frontal- mountain interactions were observed over the Rockies and the Appalachians.
Lance F. Bosart, Alicia C. Wasula, Walter H. Drag, Keith W. Meier

Chapter 3. Back to Norway: An Essay

The advent of the polar front theory of cyclones in Norway early in the last century held that the development of fronts and air masses is central to understanding midlatitude weather phenomena. While work on fronts continues to this day, the concept of air masses has been largely forgotten, superseded by the idea of a continuum. The Norwegians placed equal emphasis on the thermodynamics of airmass formation and on the dynamical processes that moved air masses around; today, almost all the emphasis is on dynamics, with little published literature on diabatic processes acting on a large scale. In this essay, the author argues that a lack of understanding of large-scale diabatic processes leads to an incomplete picture of the atmosphere and contributes to systematic errors in medium- and long-range weather forecasts. At the same time, modern concepts centered around potential vorticity conservation and inversion lead one to a redefinition of the term “air mass” that may have some utility in conceptualizing atmospheric physics and in weather forecasting.
Kerry Emanuel

Chapter 4. An Empirical Perspective on Cold Fronts

Oklahoma Mesonetwork data are used to illustrate important atmospheric features that are not well shown by the usual synoptic data. For example, some shifts of wind from south to north that are shown as cold fronts on synoptic charts are not cold fronts by any plausible definition. As previously discussed by Fred Sanders and others, such errors in analysis can be reduced by knowledge of the wide variety of weather phenomena that actually exists, and by more attention to temperatures at the earth’s surface as revealed by conventional synoptic data. Mesoscale data for four cases reinforce previous discussions of the ephemeral nature of fronts and deficiencies in the usual analyses of cold fronts. One type of misanalyzed case involves post-cold-frontal boundary layer air that is warmer than the prefrontal air. A second type is usually nocturnal, with a rise of local temperature during disruption of an inversion and a wind shift with later cooling that accompanies advection of a climatological gradient of temperature.
Edwin Kessler

Chapter 5. Perspectives on Fred Sanders’ Research on Cold Fronts

One characteristic of Fred Sanders’ research is his ability to take a topic that is believed to be well understood by the research community and show that interesting research problems still exist. Among Sanders’ considerable contributions to synoptic meteorology, those concerned with surface cold fronts have been especially influential. After a brief historical review of fronts and frontal analysis, this chapter presents three stages in Sanders’ career when he performed research on the structure, dynamics, and analysis of surface cold fronts. First, his 1955 paper, “An investigation of the structure and dynamics of an intense surface frontal zone,” was the first study to discuss quantitatively the dynamics of a surface cold front. In the 1960s, Sanders and his students further examined the structure of cold fronts, resulting in the unpublished 1967 report to the National Science Foundation, “Frontal structure and the dynamics of frontogenesis.” For a third time in his career, Sanders published several papers (1995–2005) revisiting the structure and dynamics of cold fronts. His 1967 and 1995-2005 work raises the question of the origin and dynamics of the surface pressure trough and/or wind shift that sometimes precedes the temperature gradient (hereafter called a prefrontal trough or prefrontal wind shift, respectively). Sanders showed that the relationship between this prefrontal feature and the temperature gradient is fundamental to the strength of the front. When the wind shift is coincident with the temperature gradient, frontogenesis (strengthening of the front) results; when the wind shift lies ahead of the temperature gradient, frontolysis (weakening of the front) results. A number of proposed mechanisms for the formation of prefrontal troughs and prefrontal wind shifts exist. Consequently, much research remains to be performed on these topics.
David M. Schultz

Chapter 6. The Fiftieth Anniversary of Sanders (1955): A Mesoscale Model Simulation of the Cold Front of 17–18 April 1953

Over 50 yr have passed since the publication of Sanders’ 1955 study, the first quantitative study of the structure and dynamics of a surface cold front. The purpose of this chapter is to reexamine some of the results of that study in light of modern methods of numerical weather prediction and diagnosis. A simulation with a resolution as high as 6-km horizontal grid spacing was performed with the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU-NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), given initial and lateral boundary conditions from the National Centers for Environmental Precipitation-National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP-NCAR) reanalysis project data from 17 to 18 April 1953. The MM5 produced a reasonable simulation of the front, albeit its strength was not as intense and its movement was not as fast as was analyzed by Sanders. The vertical structure of the front differed from that analyzed by Sanders in several significant ways. First, the strongest horizontal temperature gradient associated with the cold front in the simulation occurred above a surface-based inversion, not at the earth’s surface. Second, the ascent plume at the leading edge of the front was deeper and more intense than that analyzed by Sanders. The reason was an elevated mixed layer that had moved over the surface cold front in the simulation, allowing a much deeper vertical circulation than was analyzed by Sanders. This structure is similar to that of Australian cold fronts with their deep, well-mixed, prefrontal surface layer. These two differences between the model simulation and the analysis by Sanders may be because upper-air data from Fort Worth, Texas, was unavailable to Sanders. Third, the elevated mixed layer also meant that isentropes along the leading edge of the front extended vertically. Fourth, the field of frontogenesis of the horizontal temperature gradient calculated from the three-dimensional wind differed in that the magnitude of the maximum of the deformation term was larger than the magnitude of the maximum of the tilting term in the simulation, in contrast to Sanders’ analysis and other previously published cases. These two discrepancies may be attributable to the limited horizontal resolution of the data that Sanders used in constructing his cross section. Last, a deficiency of the model simulation was that the postfrontal surface superadiabatic layer in the model did not match the observed well-mixed boundary layer. This result raises the question of the origin of the well-mixed postfrontal boundary layer behind cold fronts. To address this question, an additional model simulation without surface fluxes was performed, producing a well-mixed, not superadiabatic, layer. This result suggests that surface fluxes were not necessary for the development of the well-mixed layer, in agreement with previous research. Analysis of this event also amplifies two research themes that Sanders returned to later in his career. First, a prefrontal wind shift occurred in both the observations and model simulation at stations in western Oklahoma. This prefrontal wind shift was caused by a lee cyclone departing the leeward slopes of the Rockies slightly equatorward of the cold front, rather than along the front as was the case farther eastward. Sanders’ later research showed how the occurrence of these prefrontal wind shifts leads to the weakening of fronts. Second, this study shows the advantage of using surface potential temperature, rather than surface temperature, for determining the locations of the surface fronts on sloping terrain.
David M. Schultz, Paul J. Roebber

Analysis and Diagnosis


Chapter 7. Ensemble Synoptic Analysis

Synoptic and mesoscale meteorology underwent a revolution in the 1940s and 1950s with the widespread deployment of novel weather observations, such as the radiosonde network and the advent of weather radar. These observations provoked a rapid increase in our understanding of the structure and dynamics of the atmosphere by pioneering analysts such as Fred Sanders. The authors argue that we may be approaching an analogous revolution in our ability to study the structure and dynamics of atmospheric phenomena with the advent of probabilistic objective analyses. These probabilistic analyses provide not only best estimates of the state of the atmosphere (e.g., the expected value) and the uncertainty about this state (e.g., the variance), but also the relationships between all locations and all variables at that instant in time. Up until now, these relationships have been determined by sampling in time by, for example, case studies, composites, and time-series analysis. Here the authors propose a new approach, ensemble synoptic analysis, which exploits the information contained in probabilistic samples of analyses at one or more instants in time.
One source of probabilistic analyses is ensemble-based state-estimation methods, such as ensemble-based Kalman filters. Analyses from such a filter may be used to study atmospheric phenomena and the relationships between fields and locations at one or more instants in time. After a brief overview of a research-based ensemble Kalman filter, illustrative examples of ensemble synoptic analysis are given for an extratropical cyclone, including relationships between the cyclone minimum sea level pressure and other synoptic features, statistically determined operators for potential-vorticity inversion, and ensemble-based sensitivity analysis.
Gregory J. Hakim, Ryan D. Torn

Chapter 8. Surface Potential Temperature as an Analysis and Forecasting Tool

In the last decade, Fred Sanders was often critical of current surface analysis techniques. This led to his promoting the use of surface potential temperatures to distinguish between fronts, baroclinic troughs, and nonfrontal baroclinic zones, and to the development of a climatology of surface baroclinic zones. In this paper, criticisms of current surface analysis techniques and the usefulness of surface potential temperature analyses are discussed. Case examples are used to compare potential temperature analyses and current National Centers for Environmental Prediction analyses.
The 1-yr climatology of Sanders and Hoffman is reconstructed using a composite technique. Annual and seasonal mean potential temperature analyses over the continental United States, southern Canada, northern Mexico, and adjacent coastal waters are presented. In addition, gridpoint frequencies of moderate and strong potential temperature gradients are calculated. The results of the mean potential temperature analyses show that moderate and strong surface baroclinic zones are favored along the coastlines and the slopes of the North American cordillera. Additional subsynoptic details, not found in Sanders and Hoffman, are identified. The availability of the composite results allows for the calculation of potential temperature gradient anomalies. It is shown that these anomalies can be used to identify significant frontal baroclinic zones that are associated with weak potential temperature gradients. Together the results and reviews in this paper show that surface potential temperature analyses are a valuable forecasting and analysis tool allowing analysts to distinguish and identify fronts, baroclinic troughs, and nonfrontal baroclinic zones.
Eric G. Hoffman

Chapter 9. Dynamical Diagnosis: A Comparison of Quasigeostrophy and Ertel Potential Vorticity

Advances in computer power, new forecasting challenges, and new diagnostic techniques have brought about changes in the way atmospheric development and vertical motion are diagnosed in an operational setting. Many of these changes, such as improved model skill, model resolution, and ensemble forecasting, have arguably been detrimental to the ability of forecasters to understand and respond to the evolving atmosphere. The use of nondivergent wind in place of geostrophic wind would be a step in the right direction, but the advantages of potential vorticity suggest that its widespread adoption as a diagnostic tool on the west side of the Atlantic is overdue. Ertel potential vorticity (PV), when scaled to be compatible with pseudopotential vorticity, is generally similar to pseudopotential vorticity, so forecasters accustomed to quasigeostrophic reasoning through the height tendency equation can transfer some of their intuition into the Ertel-PV framework. Indeed, many of the differences between pseudopotential vorticity and Ertel potential vorticity are consequences of the choice of definition of quasigeostrophic PV and are not fundamental to the quasigeostrophic system. Thus, at its core, PV thinking is consistent with commonly used quasigeostrophic diagnostic techniques.
John W. Nielsen-Gammon, David A. Gold

Chapter 10. Finescale Radar Observations of a Dryline during the International H2O Project (IHOP_2002)

A case study of a double dryline on 22 May 2002 is presented. Mobile, 3-mm-wavelength Doppler radars from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Wyoming (Wyoming cloud radar) were used to collect very fine resolution vertical-velocity data in the vicinity of each of the moisture gradients associated with the drylines. Very narrow (50–100 m wide) channels of strong upward vertical velocity (up to 8 m s−1) were measured in the convergence zone of the easternmost dryline, larger in magnitude than reported with previous drylines. Distinct areas of descending motion were evident to the east and west of both drylines. Radar data are interpreted in the context of other observational platforms available during the International H2O Project (IHOP_2002). A variational ground-based mobile radar data processing technique was developed and applied to pseudo-dual-Doppler data collected during a rolling range-height indicator deployment. It was found that there was a secondary (vertical) circulation normal to the easternmost moisture gradient; the circulation comprised an easterly component near-surface flow to the east, a strong upward vertical component in the convergence zone, a westerly return flow above the convective boundary layer, and numerous regions of descending motion, the most prominent approximately 3–5 km to the east of the surface convergence zone.
Christopher C. Weiss, Howard B. Bluestein, Andrew L. Pazmany, Bart Geerts



Chapter 11. The Sanders Barotropic Tropical Cyclone Track Prediction Model (SANBAR)

Sanders designed a barotropic tropical cyclone (TC) track prediction model for the North Atlantic TC basin that became known as the Sanders barotropic (SANBAR) model. It predicted the streamfunction of the deeplayer mean winds (tropical circulation vertically averaged from 1000 to 100 hPa) that represents the vertically averaged tropical circulations. Originally, the wind input for the operational objective analysis (OA) consisted of winds measured by radiosondes and 44 bogus winds provided by analysts at the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which corresponded to the vertically averaged flow over sparsely observed tropical, subtropical, and midlatitude oceanic regions. The model covered a fixed regional area and had a grid size of ∼154 km. It estimated the initial storm motion solely on the basis of the large-scale flow from the OA, not taking into account the observed storm motion.
During 1970, the SANBAR model became the first dynamical TC track model to be run operationally at NHC. Track forecasts of SANBAR were verified from the 1971 TC season when track model verifications began at NHC until its retirement after the 1989 Atlantic TC season. The average annual SANBAR forecast track errors were verified relative to Climatology and Persistence (CLIPER), the standard no-skill track forecast. Comparison with CLIPER determines the skill of track forecast methods. Verifications are presented for two different versions of the SANBAR model system used operationally during 1973–84 and 1985–89. In homogeneous comparisons (i.e., includes only forecasts for the same initial times) for the former period, SANBAR’s track forecasts were slightly better than CLIPER at 24–48-h forecast intervals; however, from 1985 to 1989 the average SANBAR track forecast errors from 24–72 h were ∼10% more skillful than homogeneous CLIPER track forecasts.
Robert W. Burpee

Chapter 12. The Application of Fred Sanders’ Teaching to Current Research on Extreme Cold-Season Precipitation Events in the Saint Lawrence River Valley Region

Abstract Fred Sanders’ teaching and research contributions in the area of quasigeostrophic theory are highlighted in this paper. The application of these contributions is made to the topic of extreme cold-season precipitation events in the Saint Lawrence valley in the northeastern United States and southern Quebec.
This research focuses on analyses of Saint Lawrence valley heavy precipitation events. Synoptic- and planetary-scale circulation anomaly precursors are typically identified several days prior to these events. These precursors include transient upper-level troughs, strong moisture transports into the region, and anomalously large precipitable water amounts. The physical insight of Fred Sanders’ work is used in the analysis of these composite results. Further details of this insight are provided in analyses of one case of heavy precipitation.
John R. Gyakum

Chapter 13. Must Surprise Snowstorms be a Surprise?

Today, even with state-of-the-art observational, data assimilation, and modeling systems run routinely on supercomputers, there are often surprises in the prediction of snowstorms, especially the “big ones,” affecting coastal regions of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. Little did the author know that lessons from Fred Sanders’ synoptic meteorology class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1967) would later (late 1980s) inspire him to pursue practical issues of predictability in the context of the development of ensemble prediction systems, strategies, and applications for providing information on the inevitable case-dependent uncertainties in forecasts. This paper is a brief qualitative and somewhat colloquial overview, based upon this author’s personal involvement and experiences, intended to highlight some basic aspects of the source and nature of uncertainties in forecasts and to illustrate the sort of value added information ensembles can provide in dealing with uncertainties in predictions of East Coast snowstorms.
M. Steven Tracton

Chapter 14. Fred Sanders’ Roles in the Transformation of Synoptic Meteorology, the Study of Rapid Cyclogenesis, the Prediction of Marine Cyclones, and the Forecast of New York City’s “Big Snow” of December 1947

Fred Sanders’ career extended over 55 yr, touching upon many of the revolutionary transformations in the field of meteorology during that period. In this paper, his contributions to the transformation of synoptic meteorology, his research into the nature of explosive cyclogenesis, and related advances in the ability to predict these storms are reviewed. In addition to this review, the current status of forecasting oceanic cyclones 4.5 days in advance is presented, illustrating the progress that has been made and the challenges that persist, especially for forecasting those extreme extratropical cyclones that are marked by surface wind speeds exceeding hurricane force. Last, Fred Sanders’ participation in a forecast for the historic 1947 snowstorm (that produced snowfall amounts in the New York City area that set records at that time) is reviewed along with an attempt to use today’s operational global model to simulate this storm using data that were available at the time. The study reveals the predictive limitations involved with this case based on the scarcity of upper-air data in 1947, while confirming Fred Sanders’ forecasting skills when dealing with these types of major storm events, even as a young aviation forecaster at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Louis W. Uccellini, Paul J. Kocin, Joseph Sienkiewicz, Robert Kistler, Michael Baker

Climate and Climatology


Chapter 15. Linking Weather and Climate

Historically, the atmospheric sciences have tended to treat problems of weather and climate separately. The real physical system, however, is a continuum, with short-term (minutes to days) “weather” fluctuations influencing climate variations and change, and, conversely, more slowly varying aspects of the system (typical time scales of a season or longer) affecting the weather that is experienced. While this past approach has served important purposes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that in order to make progress in addressing many socially important problems, an improved understanding of the connections between weather and climate is required.
This overview summarizes the progress over the last few decades in the understanding of the phenomena and mechanisms linking weather and climate variations. The principal emphasis is on developments in understanding key phenomena and processes that bridge the time scales between synoptic-scale weather variability (periods of approximately 1 week) and climate variations of a season or longer. Advances in the ability to identify synoptic features, improve physical understanding, and develop forecast skill within this time range are reviewed, focusing on a subset of major, recurrent phenomena that impact extratropical wintertime weather and climate variations over the Pacific—North American region. While progress has been impressive, research has also illuminated areas where future gains are possible. This article concludes with suggestions on near-term directions for advancing the understanding and capabilities to predict the connections between weather and climate variations.
Randall M. Dole

Chapter 16. Closed Anticyclones of the Subtropics and Midlatitudes: A 54-Yr Climatology (1950–2003) and Three Case Studies

The pioneering large-scale studies of cyclone frequency, location, and intensity conducted by Fred Sanders prompt similar questions about lesser-studied anticyclone development. The results of a climatology of closed anticyclones (CAs) at 200, 500, and 850 hPa, with an emphasis on the subtropics and midlatitudes, is presented to assess the seasonally varying distribution and hemispheric differences of these features. To construct the CA climatology, a counting program was applied to twice-daily 2.5° NCEP-NCAR reanalysis 200-, 500-, and 850-hPa geopotential height fields for the period 1950–2003. Stationary CAs, defined as those CAs that were located at a particular location for consecutive time periods, were counted only once.
The climatology results show that 200-hPa CAs occur preferentially during summer over subtropical continental regions, while 500-hPa CAs occur preferentially over subtropical oceans in all seasons and over subtropical continents in summer. Conversely, 850-hPa CAs occur preferentially over oceanic regions beneath upper-level midocean troughs, and are most prominent in the Northern Hemisphere, and over midlatitude continents in winter.
Three case studies of objectively identified CAs that produced heat waves over the United States, Europe, and Australia in 1995, 2003, and 2004, respectively, are presented to supplement the climatological results. The case studies, examining the subset of CAs than can produce heat waves, illustrate how climatologically hot continental tropical air masses produced over arid and semiarid regions of the subtropics and lower midlatitudes can become abnormally hot in conjunction with dynamically driven upper-level ridge amplification. Subsequently, these abnormally hot air masses are advected downstream away from their source regions in conjunction with transient disturbances embedded in anomalously strong westerly jets.
Thomas J. Galarneau, Lance F. Bosart, Anantha R. Aiyyer


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