Surface moistening trends in the Northern North American great plains increase the likelihood of convective initiation

Tobias Gerken, Gabriel T. Bromley, Paul C. Stoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Land management impacts atmospheric boundary layer processes, and recent trends reducing the practice of summer fallow have led to increases in precipitation and decreases in temperature in the Canadian Prairie provinces during summer. It is unclear if such trends also impact the hydrometeorology of the adjacent U.S. northern Great Plains, parts of which have seen similar changes in land management. Here, MERRA-2 reanalysis data, eddy covariance observations, and a mixed-layer (ML) atmospheric modeling framework are combined to demonstrate that the likelihood of convectively preconditioned conditions has increased by approximately 10% since the mid-1980s and is now more sensitive to further decreases in the Bowen ratio (Bo) and maximum daily net radiation Rn, max in northeastern Montana. Convective season Bo in the study area has decreased from approximately 2 to 1 from the 1980s until the present, largely due to simultaneous increases in latent heat flux and decreases in sensible heat flux, consistent with observed decreases of summer fallow and increases in cropping. Daily net radiation Rn has not changed despite a significant decrease in May and June humidity lapse rates from the 1980s to present. Future research should determine the area of the U.S. Great Plains that has seen changes in the dynamics of the atmospheric boundary layer height and lifted condensation level and their crossings as a necessary condition for convective precipitation to occur and ascertain if ongoing changes in land management will lead to future changes in convective outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-244
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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