An analysis of the warm-season diurnal cycle over the continental United States and northern Mexico in general circulation models

Myong In Lee, Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, Isaac M. Held, Ngar Cheung Lau, Jeffrey J. Ploshay, Arun Kumar, Hyun Kyung Kim, Jae Kyung E. Schemm

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95 Scopus citations


The diurnal cycle of warm-season rainfall over the continental United States and northern Mexico is analyzed in three global atmospheric general circulation models (AGCMs) from NCEP, GFDL, and the NASA Global Modeling Assimilation Office (GMAO). The results for each model are based on an ensemble of five summer simulations forced with climatological sea surface temperatures. Although the overall patterns of time-mean (summer) rainfall and low-level winds are reasonably well simulated, all three models exhibit substantial regional deficiencies that appear to be related to problems with the diurnal cycle. Especially prominent are the discrepancies in the diurnal cycle of precipitation over the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent Great Plains, including the failure to adequately capture the observed nocturnal peak. Moreover, the observed late afternoon-early evening eastward propagation of convection from the mountains into the Great Plains is not adequately simulated, contributing to the deficiencies in the diurnal cycle in the Great Plains. In the southeast United States, the models show a general tendency to rain in the early afternoon - several hours earlier than observed. Over the North American monsoon region in the southwest United States and northern Mexico, the phase of the broadscale diurnal convection appears to be reasonably well simulated, though the coarse resolution of the runs precludes the simulation of key regional phenomena. All three models employ deep convection schemes that assume fundamentally the same buoyancy closure based on simplified versions of the Arakawa-Schubert scheme. Nevertheless, substantial differences between the models in the diurnal cycle of convection highlight the important differences in their implementations and interactions with the boundary layer scheme. An analysis of local diurnal variations of convective available potential energy (CAPE) shows an overall tendency for an afternoon peak - a feature well simulated by the models. The simulated diurnal cycle of rainfall is in phase with the local CAPE variation over the southeast United States and the Rocky Mountains where the local surface boundary forcing is important in regulating the diurnal cycle of convection. On the other hand, the simulated diurnal cycle of rainfall tends to be too strongly tied to CAPE over the Great Plains, where the observed precipitation and CAPE are out of phase, implying that free atmospheric large-scale forcing plays a more important role than surface heat fluxes in initiating or inhibiting convection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-366
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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