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      A global climatological perspective on the importance of Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport for extreme precipitation events

      Weather and Climate Dynamics
      Copernicus GmbH

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          Abstract. Extreme precipitation events (EPEs) frequently cause flooding with dramatic socioeconomic impacts in many parts of the world. Previous studies considered two synoptic-scale processes, Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport, typically in isolation, and their linkage to such EPEs in several regions. This study presents for the first time a global and systematic climatological analysis of these two synoptic-scale processes, in tandem and in isolation, for the occurrence of EPEs. To this end, we use 40-year ERA-Interim reanalysis data (1979–2018) and apply object-based identification methods for (i) daily EPEs, (ii) stratospheric potential vorticity (PV) streamers as indicators of Rossby wave breaking, and (iii) structures of high vertically integrated horizontal water vapour transport (IVT). First, the importance of these two synoptic-scale processes is demonstrated by case studies of previously documented flood events that inflicted catastrophic impacts in different parts of the world. Next, a climatological quantification shows that Rossby wave breaking is associated with >90 % of EPEs over central North America and the Mediterranean, whereas intense moisture transport is linked to >95 % of EPEs over many coastal zones, consistent with findings of atmospheric river-related studies. Combined Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport contributes up to 70 % of EPEs in several subtropical and extratropical regions, including (semi)arid desert regions where tropical–extratropical interactions are of key importance for (heavy) rainfall. Odds ratios of EPEs linked to the two synoptic-scale processes suggest that intense moisture transport has a stronger association with the occurrence of EPEs than Rossby wave breaking. Furthermore, the relationship between the PV and IVT characteristics and the precipitation volumes shows that the depth of the wave breaking and moisture transport intensity are intimately connected with the extreme precipitation severity. Finally, composites reveal that subtropical and extratropical EPEs, linked to Rossby wave breaking, go along with the formation of upper-level troughs and cyclogenetic processes near the surface downstream, reduced static stability beneath the upper-level forcing (only over water), and dynamical lifting ahead (over water and land). This study concludes with a concept that reconciles well-established meteorological principles with the importance of Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport for the formation of EPEs. Another conclusion with major implications is that different combinations of Rossby wave breaking and intense moisture transport can reflect a large range of EPE-related weather systems across climate zones and can thus form the basis for a new classification of EPE regimes. The findings of this study may contribute to an improved understanding of the atmospheric processes that lead to EPEs and may find application in climatic studies on extreme precipitation changes in a warming climate.

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          (View ORCID Profile)
          Weather and Climate Dynamics
          Weather Clim. Dynam.
          Copernicus GmbH
          March 09 2021
          : 2
          : 1
          : 129-161
          © 2021




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