The relationship of the North American Monsoon to tropical and North Pacific Sea surface temperatures as revealed by observational analyses

Christropher L. Castro, Thomas B. McKee, Roger A. Pielke

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The North American monsoon is a seasonal shift of upper- and low-level pressure and wind patterns that brings summertime moisture into the southwest United States and ends the late spring wet period in the Great Plains. The interannual variability of the North American monsoon is examined using the NCEP-NCAR reanalysis (1948-98). The diurnal and seasonal evolution of 500-mb geopotential height, integrated moisture flux, and integrated moisture flux convergence are constructed using a 5-day running mean for the months May through September. All of the years are used to calculate an average daily Z score that removes the diurnal, seasonal. and intraseasonal variability. The 30-day average Z score centered about the date is correlated with Pacific sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) indices associated with the El Niõ-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Pacific oscillation (NPO). These indices are Niõ-3. a North Pacific index, and a Pacific index that combines the previous two. Regional time-evolving precipitation indices for the Southwest and Great Plains, which consider the total number of wet or dry stations in a region, are also correlated with the SSTA indices. The use of nonnormally distributed point source precipitation data is avoided. Teleconnections are computed relative to the climatological evolution of the North American monsoon, rather than to calendar months, thus more accurately accounting for the climatological changes in the large-scale circulation. Tropical and North Pacific SSTs are related to the occurrence of the Pacific Transition and East Pacific teleconnection patterns, respectively, in June and July. A high (low) NPO phase and El Niõ (La Niã) conditions favor a weaker (stronger) and southward (northward) displaced monsoon ridge. These teleconnection patterns affect the timing and large-scale distribution of monsoon moisture. In the Great Plains, the spring wet season is lengthened (shortened) and early summer rainfall and integrated moisture flux convergence are above (below) average. In the Southwest, monsoon onset is late (early) and early summer rainfall and integrated moisture flux convergence are below (above) average. Relationships with Pacific SSTA indices decay in the later part of the monsoon coincident with weakening of the jet stream across the Pacific and strengthening of the monsoon ridge over North America. The most coherent summer climate patterns occur over the entire western United States when the Pacific index is substantially high or low, such as during the Midwest flood of 1993 and drought of 1988. The Pacific index in spring is a good predictor of early summer height anomalies over the western United States when the time evolution of the North Pacific SST dipole is considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4449-4473
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2001


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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