skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 10:00 PM ET on Friday, December 8 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, December 9 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Mesoscale Gravity Waves and Midlatitude Weather: A Tribute to Fuqing Zhang
Abstract Over the course of his career, Fuqing Zhang drew vital new insights into the dynamics of meteorologically significant mesoscale gravity waves (MGWs), including their generation by unbalanced jet streaks, their interaction with fronts and organized precipitation, and their importance in midlatitude weather and predictability. Zhang was the first to deeply examine “spontaneous balance adjustment”—the process by which MGWs are continuously emitted as baroclinic growth drives the upper-level flow out of balance. Through his pioneering numerical model investigation of the large-amplitude MGW event of 4 January 1994, he additionally demonstrated the critical role of MGW–moist convection interaction in wave amplification. Zhang’s curiosity-turned-passion in atmospheric science covered a vast range of topics and led to the birth of new branches of research in mesoscale meteorology and numerical weather prediction. Yet, it was his earliest studies into midlatitude MGWs and their significant impacts on hazardous weather that first inspired him. Such MGWs serve as the focus of this review, wherein we seek to pay tribute to his groundbreaking contributions, review our current understanding, and highlight critical open science issues. Chief among such issues is the nature of MGW amplification through feedback with moist convection, which continues to elude a complete understanding. The pressing nature of this subject is underscored by the continued failure of operational numerical forecast models to adequately predict most large-amplitude MGW events. Further research into such issues therefore presents a valuable opportunity to improve the understanding and forecasting of this high-impact weather phenomenon, and in turn, to preserve the spirit of Zhang’s dedication to this subject.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Page Range / eLocation ID:
E129 to E156
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract We investigate the sensitivity of mesoscale atmospheric predictability to the slope of the background kinetic energy spectrum E by adding initial errors to simulations of idealized moist midlatitude cyclones at several wavenumbers k for which the slope of E (k) is significantly different. These different slopes arise from 1) differences in the E (k) generated by cyclones growing in two different moist baroclinically unstable environments, and 2) differences in the horizontal scale at which initial perturbations are added, with E (k) having steeper slopes at larger scales. When small-amplitude potential temperature perturbations are added, the error growth through the subsequent 36-h simulation is not sensitive to the slope of E (k) nor to the horizontal scale of the initial error. In all cases with small-amplitude perturbations, the error growth in physical space is dominated by moist convection along frontal boundaries. As such, the error field is localized in physical space and broad in wavenumber (spectral) space. In moist midlatitude cyclones, these broadly distributed errors in wavenumber space limit mesoscale predictability by growing up-amplitude rather than by cascading upscale to progressively longer wavelengths. In contrast, the error distribution in homogeneous turbulence is broad in physical space and localized in wavenumber space, and dimensional analysis can be used to estimate the error growth rate at a specific wavenumber k from E (k). Predictability estimates derived in this manner, and from the numerical solutions of idealized models of homogeneous turbulence, depend on whether the slope of E (k) is shallower or steeper than k^ −3 , which differs from the slope-insensitive behavior exhibited by moist midlatitude cyclones. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract Observational evidence of two extratropical pathways to forcing tropical convective disturbances is documented through a statistical analysis of satellite-derived OLR and ERA5 reanalysis. The forcing mechanism and the resulting disturbances are found to strongly depend on the structure of the background zonal wind. Although Rossby wave propagation is prohibited in easterlies, modeling studies have shown that extratropical forcing can still excite equatorial waves through resonance between the tropics and extratropics. Here this “remote” forcing pathway is investigated for the first time in the context of convectively coupled Kelvin waves over the tropical Pacific during northern summer. The extratropical forcing is manifested by eddy momentum flux convergence that arises when extratropical eddies propagate into the subtropics and encounter their critical line. This nonlinear forcing has similar wavenumbers and frequencies with Kelvin waves and excites them by projecting onto their meridional eigenstructure in zonal wind, as a form of resonance. This resonance is also evidenced by a momentum budget analysis, which reveals the nonlinear forcing term is essential for maintenance of the waves, while the remaining linear terms are essential for propagation. In contrast, the “local” pathway of extratropical forcing entails the presence of a westerly duct during northern winter that permits Rossby waves to propagate into the equatorial east Pacific, while precluding any sort of resonance with Kelvin waves due to Doppler shifting effects. The intruding disturbances primarily excite tropical “cloud plumes” through quasigeostrophic forcing, while maintaining their extratropical nature. This study demonstrates the multiple roles of the extratropics in forcing in tropical circulations and illuminates how tropical–extratropical interactions and extratropical basic states can provide be a source of predictability at the S2S time scale. Significance Statement This study seeks to understand how circulations in the midlatitudes excite the weather systems in the tropics. Results show that the mechanisms, as well as the types of tropical weather systems excited, are strongly dependent on the mean large-scale wind structure. In particular, when the large-scale wind blows from east to west, a special type of eastward-moving tropical weather system, the Kelvin wave, is excited owing to its resonance with remote eastward-moving weather systems in the extratropics. On the contrary, when the average wind blows from west to east, midlatitude systems are observed to intrude into the lower latitudes and directly force tropical convection, the cloud plumes, while maintaining their extratropical nature. These results speak to how the midlatitudes can excite distinct types of tropical weather systems under different climatological wind regimes. Understanding these tropical weather systems and their interactions with the midlatitudes may ultimately help to improve predictions of weather beyond 2 weeks. 
    more » « less
  3. Convective parameterization is the long-lasting bottleneck of global climate modelling and one of the most difficult problems in atmospheric sciences. Uncertainty in convective parameterization is the leading cause of the widespread climate sensitivity in IPCC global warming projections. This paper reviews the observations and parameterizations of atmospheric convection with emphasis on the cloud structure, bulk effects, and closure assumption. The representative state-of-the-art convection schemes are presented, including the ECMWF convection scheme, the Grell scheme used in NCEP model and WRF model, the Zhang-MacFarlane scheme used in NCAR and DOE models, and parameterizations of shallow moist convection. The observed convection has self-suppression mechanisms caused by entrainment in convective updrafts, surface cold pool generated by unsaturated convective downdrafts, and warm and dry lower troposphere created by mesoscale downdrafts. The post-convection environment is often characterized by “diamond sounding” suggesting an over-stabilization rather than barely returning to neutral state. Then the pre-convection environment is characterized by slow moistening of lower troposphere triggered by surface moisture convergence and other mechanisms. The over-stabilization and slow moistening make the convection events episodic and decouple the middle/upper troposphere from the boundary layer, making the state-type quasi-equilibrium hypothesis invalid. Right now, unsaturated convective downdrafts and especially mesoscale downdrafts are missing in most convection schemes, while some schemes are using undiluted convective updrafts, all of which favour easily turned-on convection linked to double-ITCZ (inter-tropical convergence zone), overly weak MJO (Madden-Julian Oscillation) and precocious diurnal precipitation maximum. We propose a new strategy for convection scheme development using reanalysis-driven model experiments such as the assimilation runs in weather prediction centres and the decadal prediction runs in climate modelling centres, aided by satellite simulators evaluating key characteristics such as the lifecycle of convective cloud-top distribution and stratiform precipitation fraction. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Kilometer‐scale grid spacing is increasingly being used in regional numerical weather prediction and climate simulation. This resolution range is in the terra incognita, where energetic eddies are partially resolved and turbulence parameterization is a challenge. The Smagorinsky and turbulence kinetic energy 1.5‐order models are commonly used at this resolution range, but, as traditional eddy‐diffusivity models, they can only represent forward‐scattering turbulence (downgradient fluxes), whereas the dynamic reconstruction model (DRM), based on explicit filtering, permits countergradient fluxes. Here we perform large‐eddy simulation of deep convection with 100‐m horizontal grid spacing and use these results to evaluate the performance of turbulence schemes at 1‐km horizontal resolution. The Smagorinsky and turbulence kinetic energy 1.5 schemes produce large‐amplitude errors at 1‐km resolution, due to excessively large eddy diffusivities attributable to the formulation of the squared moist Brunt‐Väisälä frequency (). With this formulation in cloudy regions, eddy diffusivity can be excessively increased in “unstable” regions, which produce downward (downgradient) heat flux in a conditionally unstable environment leading to destabilization and further amplification of eddy diffusivities. A more appropriate criterion based on saturation mixing ratio helps eliminate this problem. However, shallow clouds cannot be simulated well in any case at 1‐km resolution with the traditional models, whereas DRM allows for countergradient heat flux for both shallow and deep convection and predicts the distribution of clouds and fluxes satisfactorily. This is because DRM employs an eddy diffusivity model that is dynamically adjusted and a reconstruction approach that allows countergradient fluxes.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    This study investigates the diurnal cycle of rainfall, convection, and precipitation features (PFs) over the Maritime Continent (MC). The study uses Tropical Rainfall Measuring Missions (TRMM) Multi‐satellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA; product 3b42), TRMM PFs, and convective classifications from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) data. Together, these satellites dataset paint a comprehensive picture of the diurnal cycle of rainfall and convection over the MC consistent with past research. Isolated convection initiates around midday over the higher terrain of the large islands (Java, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea). The convection becomes more organized through the afternoon and evening, leading to peak rainfall over the islands around 1800–2100 local standard time (LST). Over the next few hours, some of that rainfall transitions to stratiform rain over land. The convection then propagates offshore overnight with rainfall peaking along the coast around 0300–0600 LST and then over ocean around 0600–0900 LST. ISCCP data suggests that the overnight and early morning convection is more associated with isolated convective cells than the remnants of mesoscale convective systems. The coastal and oceanic diurnal ranges also seem to be larger in stratiform rainfall, in contrast to land where convective rainfall dominates. Seasonally the diurnal variation of rainfall, convection, and PFs over the region have greater amplitude during DJF (December, January, and February) than JJA (June, July, and August). Given the MC's critical role in the global climate, examining variations in these cycles with respect to the Madden–Julian Oscillation and equatorial waves may ultimately lead to improved subseasonal weather forecasts.

    more » « less