Synoptic circulation and land surface influences on convection in the midwest U.S. "corn belt" during the summers of 1999 and 2000. Part I: Composite synoptic environments

Andrew M. Carleton, David L. Arnold, David J. Travis, Steve Curran, Jimmy O. Adegoke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


In the Midwest U.S. Corn Belt, the 1999 and 2000 summer seasons (15 June-15 September) expressed contrasting spatial patterns and magnitudes of precipitation (1999: dry; 2000. normal to moist). Distinct from the numerical modeling approach often used in studies of land surface-climate interactions, a "synoptic climatological" (i.e., stratified composite) approach is applied to observation data (e.g., precipitation, radar, and atmospheric reanalyses) to determine the relative influences of "top-down" synoptic atmospheric circulation (Part I, this paper) and "bottom-up" land surface mesoscale conditions (Part II) on the predominantly convective precipitation variations. Because mesoscale modeling suggests that the free-atmosphere wind speed ("background wind") regulates the land surface-atmosphere mesoscale interaction, each day's spatial range of wind speed at 500 hPa [V(500)] over the Central Corn Belt (CCB) is classified into one of five categories ranging from "weak flow" to "jet maximum." Deep convective activity (i.e., presence/absence and morphological signature type) is determined for each afternoon and early evening period from the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) imagery. Frequencies of the resulting background wind-convection joint occurrence types for the 1999 and 2000 summer seasons are examined in the context of the statistics determined for summers in the longer period of 1996-2001, and also compose categories for which NCEP-NCAR reanalysis (NNR) fields are averaged to yield synoptic composite environments for the two study seasons. The latter composites are compared visually with high-resolution (spatial) composites of precipitation to help identify the influence of top-down climate controls. The analysis confirms that reduced (increased) organization of radar-indicated deep convection tends to occur with weaker (stronger) background flow. The summers of 1999 and 2000 differ from one another in terms of background flow and convective activity, but more so with respect to the six-summer averages, indicating that a fuller explanation of the precipitation differences in the two summers must be sought in the analysis of additional synoptic meteorological variables. The composite synoptic conditions on convection (CV) days (no convection (NC) days) in 1999 and 2000 are generalized as follows: low pressure incoming from the west (high pressure or ridging), southerly (northerly) lower-tropospheric winds, positive (negative) anomalies of moisture in the lower troposphere, rising (sinking) air in the midtroposphere, and a location south of the upper-tropospheric jet maximum (absence of an upper-tropospheric jet or one located just south of the area). Features resembling the "northerly low-level jets" identified in previous studies for the Great Plains are present on some NC-day composites. On CV days the spatial synchronization of synoptic features implying baroclinity increases with increasing background wind speed. The CV and NC composites differ least on days of weaker flow, and there are small areas within the CCB having no obvious association between precipitation elevated amounts and synoptic circulation features favoring the upward motion of air. These spatial incongruities imply a contributory influence of "stationary" (i.e., climatic) land surface mesoscale processes in convective activity, which are examined in Part II.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3389-3415
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Synoptic circulation and land surface influences on convection in the midwest U.S. "corn belt" during the summers of 1999 and 2000. Part I: Composite synoptic environments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this