Mechanisms of the Great Plains low-level jet as simulated in an AGCM

Xianan Jiang, Ngar Cheung Lau, Isaac M. Held, Jeffrey J. Ploshay

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A model diagnosis has been performed on the nocturnal Great Plains low-level jet (LLJ), which is one of the key elements of the warm season regional climate over North America. The horizontal-vertical structure, diurnal phase, and amplitude of the LLJ are well simulated by an atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM), thus justifying a reevaluation of the physical mechanisms for the formation of the LLJ based on output from this model. A diagnosis of the AGCM data confirms that two planetary boundary layer (PBL) processes, the diurnal oscillation of the pressure gradient force and of vertical diffusion, are of comparable importance in regulating the inertial oscillation of the winds, which leads to the occurrence of maximum LLJ strength during nighttime. These two processes are highlighted in the theories for the LLJ proposed by Holton (1967) and Blackadar (1957). A simple model is constructed in order to study the relative roles of these two mechanisms. This model incorporates the diurnal variation of the pressure gradient force and vertical diffusion coefficients as obtained from the AGCM simulation. The results reveal that the observed diurnal phase and amplitude of the LLJ can be attributed to the combination of these two mechanisms. The LLJ generated by either Holton's or Blackadar's mechanism alone is characterized by an unrealistic meridional phase shift and weaker amplitude. It is also shown that the diurnal phase of the LLJ exhibits vertical variations in the PBL, more clearly at higher latitudes, with the upper PBL wind attaining a southerly peak several hours earlier than the lower PBL. The simple model demonstrates that this phase tilt is due mainly to sequential triggering of the inertial oscillation from upper to lower PBL when surface cooling commences after sunset. At lower latitudes, due to the change of orientation of prevailing mean wind vectors and the longer inertial period, the inertial oscillation in the lower PBL tends to be interrupted by strong vertical mixing in the following day, whereas in the upper PBL, the inertial oscillation can proceed in a low-friction environment for a relatively longer duration. Thus, the vertical phase tilt initiated at sunset is less evident at lower latitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)532-547
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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