1A.6 Climatology of Strong Cold Fronts over the Western United States

Tuesday, 26 June 2007: 9:15 AM
Summit A (The Yarrow Resort Hotel and Conference Center)
W. James Steenburgh, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT; and J. C. Shafer

Motivated by the intensity and severity of winds and temperature falls that frequently accompany rapidly developing cold fronts in northern Utah, this study presents a 25-y climatology of strong cold frontal passages over the Intermountain West and adjoining western United States. Using conventional surface observations and the North American Regional Reanalysis, strong cold frontal passages are identified based on a temperature fall of 7°C or greater in a 2–3 h period, a concurrent pressure rise of 3 hPa or greater, and the presence of a large-scale 700-hPa temperature gradient of at least 6°C/(500 km). The number of strong cold frontal passages exhibits a strong continental signature with very few events (< 10) along the Pacific coast and more than 200 events east of the Continental Divide. The number of events increases dramatically from the Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada to northern Utah, indicating that the Intermountain West is a frequent cold front breeding ground.

A composite of the 25 strongest events at Salt Lake City (based on the magnitude of the temperature fall) reveals that confluent deformation acting on a broad baroclinic zone over central Nevada commonly initiates Intermountain frontogenesis. The confluent deformation develops in southwesterly large-scale flow and appears to be enhanced by flow deflection around the Sierra Nevada. Quasi-stationary development and intensification of the southwest–northeast oriented cold front then occurs as a mobile upper-level trough approaches from the west. The front becomes mobile as cold advection and ascent associated with the upper-level trough overtake the low-level front. Cloud and precipitation observations suggest that differential diabatic heating contributes to the rapid frontal intensification in many events.

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