Impact of tropical easterly waves on the North American monsoon

Jennifer L. Adams, David J. Stensrud

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23 Scopus citations


The North American monsoon (NAM) is a prominent summertime feature over northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is characterized by a distinct shift in midlevel winds from westerly to easterly as well as a sharp, marked increase in rainfall. This maximum in rainfall accounts for 60%-80% of the annual precipitation in northwestern Mexico and nearly 40% of the yearly rainfall over the southwestern United States. Gulf surges, or coastally trapped disturbances that occur over the Gulf of California, are important mechanisms in supplying the necessary moisture for the monsoon and are hypothesized in previous studies to be initiated by the passage of a tropical easterly wave (TEW). Since the actual number of TEWs varies from year to year, it is possible that TEWs are responsible for producing some of the interannual variability in the moisture flux and rainfall seen in the NAM. To explore the impact of TEWs on the NAM, four 1-month periods are chosen for study that represent a reasonable variability in TEW activity. Two continuous month-long simulations are produced for each of the selected months using the Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesoscale Model. One simulation is a control run that uses the complete boundary condition data, whereas a harmonic analysis is used to remove TEWs with periods of approximately 3.5 to 7.5 days from the model boundary conditions in the second simulation. These simulations with and without TEWs in the boundary conditions are compared to determine the impact of the waves on the NAM. Fields such as meridional moisture flux, rainfall totals, and surge occurrences are examined to define similarities and differences between the model runs. Results suggest that the removal of TEWs not only reduces the strength of gulf surges, but also rearranges rainfall over the monsoon region. Results further suggest that TEWs influence rainfall over the Southern Plains of the United States, with TEWs leading to less rainfall in this region. While these results are only suggestive, since rainfall is the most difficult model forecast parameter, it may be that TEWs alone can explain part of the inverse relationship between NAM and Southern Plains rainfall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1219-1238
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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