The strong horizontal gradients in sea surface temperature (SST) of the Atlantic Gulf Stream exert a detectable influence on extratropical cyclones propagating across the region. This is shown in a sensitivity experiment where 24 winter storms
taken from ERA-Interim are simulated with HARMONIE at 10-km resolution. Each storm is simulated twice. First, using observed SST (REF). In the second simulation a smoothed SST is offered (SMTH), while lateral and upper-level boundary conditions are unmodified. Each storm pair propagates approximately along the same track, however their intensities (as
measured by maximal near-surface wind speed or 850-hPa relative vorticity) differ up to ± 25%. A 30-member ensemble created for one of the storms shows that on a single-storm level the response is systematic rather than random. To explain the broad response in storm strength, we show that the SST-adjustment modifies two environmental parameters: surface latent heat flux (LHF) and low-level baroclinicity (B). LHF influences storms by modifying diabatic heating and boundary-layer processes such as vertical mixing. The position of each storm’s track relative to the SST-front is important. South of the SST-front the smoothing leads to lower SST, reduced LHF and storms with generally weaker maximum near-surface winds. North of the SST-front the increased LHF tend to enhance the winds, but the accompanying changes in baroclinicity are not necessarily favourable. Together these mechanisms explain up to 80% of the variability in the near-surface maximal wind speed change. Because the mechanisms are less effective in explaining more dynamics-oriented indicators like 850 hPa relative vorticity, we hypothesise that part of the wind-speed change is related to adjustment of the boundary-layer processes in response to the LHF and B changes.
H de Vries, S Scher, RJ Haarsma, SS Drijfhout, AJ van Delden. How Gulf-Stream SST-fronts influence Atlantic winter storms: Results from a downscaling experiment with HARMONIE to the role of modified latent heat fluxes and low-level baroclinicity
Status: published, Journal: Clim. Dyn., Year: 2018, doi: 10.1007/s00382-018-4486-7