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The influence of tropical forcing on extreme winter precipitation in the western Himalaya

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Abstract

Within the Karakoram and western Himalaya (KH), snowfall from winter westerly disturbances (WD) maintains the region’s snowpack and glaciers, which melt seasonally to sustain water resources for downstream populations. WD activity and subsequent precipitation are influenced by global atmospheric variability and tropical-extratropical interactions. On interannual time-scales, El Niño related changes in tropical diabatic heating induce a Rossby wave response over southwest Asia that is linked with enhanced dynamical forcing of WD and available moisture. Consequently, extreme orographic precipitation events are more frequent during El Niño than La Niña or neutral conditions. A similar spatial pattern of tropical diabatic heating is produced by the MJO at intraseasonal scales. In comparison to El Niño, the Rossby wave response to MJO activity is less spatially uniform over southwest Asia and varies on shorter time-scales. This study finds that the MJO’s relationship with WD and KH precipitation is more complex than that of ENSO. Phases of the MJO propagation cycle that favor the dynamical enhancement of WD simultaneously suppress available moisture over southwest Asia, and vice versa. As a result, extreme precipitation events in the KH occur with similar frequency in most phases of the MJO, however, there is a transition in the relative importance of dynamical forcing and moisture in WD to orographic precipitation in the KH as the MJO evolves. These findings give insight into the dynamics and predictability of extreme precipitation events in the KH through their relationship with global atmospheric variability, and are an important consideration in evaluating Asia’s water resources.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Climate and Large-Scale Dynamics Program, from the National Science Foundation (NSF award-AGS 1116105) and by NASA Headquarters under the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program (Grant Number 13-EARTH13F-26). The CFSR data used in this research were developed by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and provided by NCAR. NCEP/NCAR R1 and NOAA OLR data was provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, from their website (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/). APHRODITE data were provided by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan. TRMM data were provided by an international joint project sponsored by the Japan National Space Development Agency (NASDA) and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Earth Science. Station data was provided by the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan (WAPDA) and the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD). The authors would also like to thank Dr. Elisa Palazzi and Dr. Mathew Barlow for their help on this manuscript.

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Cannon, F., Carvalho, L.M.V., Jones, C. et al. The influence of tropical forcing on extreme winter precipitation in the western Himalaya. Clim Dyn 48, 1213–1232 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-016-3137-0

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