Winds are an important aspect of regional climate dynamics. Winds along coasts drive the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters that feed California’s rich coastal ecosystems, and Southern California’s Santa Ana winds are a major factor in the spread of wildfires. The following list of publications details our work related to understanding the processes that drive winds, and how winds will change in the future.
The atmospheric conditions that lead to strong offshore surface winds in Southern California, commonly referred to as Santa Ana winds, are investigated using the North American Regional Reanalysis and a 12-year, 6-km resolution regional climate simulation of Southern California. We first construct an index to characterize Santa Ana events based on offshore wind strength. This index is then used to identify the average synoptic conditions associated with Santa Ana events—a high pressure anomaly over the Great Basin. This pressure anomaly causes offshore geostrophic winds roughly perpendicular to the region’s mountain ranges, which in turn cause surface flow as the offshore momentum is transferred to the surface. We find, however, that there are large variations in the synoptic conditions during Santa Ana conditions, and that there are many days with strong offshore flow and weak synoptic forcing. This is due to local thermodynamic forcing that also causes strong offshore surface flow: a large temperature gradient between the cold desert surface and the warm ocean air at the same altitude creates an offshore pressure gradient at that altitude, in turn causing katabatic-like offshore flow in a thin layer near the surface. We quantify the contribution of “synoptic” and “local thermodynamic” mechanisms using a bivariate linear regression model, and find that, unless synoptic conditions force strongly onshore winds, the local thermodynamic forcing is the primary control on Santa Ana variability.
Fire plays a crucial role in many ecosystems, and a better understanding of different controls on fire activity is needed. Here we analyze spatial variation in fire danger during episodic wind events in coastal southern California, a densely populated Mediterranean‐climate region. By reconstructing almost a decade of fire weather patterns through detailed simulations of Santa Ana winds, we produced the first high‐resolution map of where these hot, dry winds are consistently most severe and which areas are relatively sheltered. We also analyzed over half a century of mapped fire history in chaparral ecosystems of the region, finding that our models successfully predict where the largest wildfires are most likely to occur. There is a surprising lack of information about extreme wind patterns worldwide, and more quantitative analyses of their spatial variation will be important for effective fire management and sustainable long‐term urban development on fire‐prone landscapes.
Observational studies have shown that mesoscale variations in sea surface temperature may induce mesoscale variations in wind. In eastern subtropical upwelling regions such as the California coast, this mechanism could be of great importance for the mean state and variability of the climate system. In coastal regions orography also creates mesoscale variations in wind, and the orographic effect may extend more than 100 km offshore. The respective roles of SST/wind links and coastal orography in shaping mesoscale wind variations in nearshore regions is not clear. We address this question in the context of the California Upwelling System, using a high-resolution regional numerical modeling system coupling the WRF atmospheric model to the ROMS oceanic model, as well as additional uncoupled experiments to quantify and separate the effects of SST/wind links and coastal orography on mesoscale wind variations. After taking into account potential biases in the representation of the strength of SST/wind links by the model, our results suggest that the magnitude of mesoscale wind variations arising from the orographic effects is roughly twice that of wind variations associated with mesoscale SST anomalies. This indicates that even in this region where coastal orography is complex and leaves a strong imprint on coastal winds, the role of SST/winds links in shaping coastal circulation and climate cannot be neglected.
The frequency and character of Southern California’s Santa Ana wind events are investigated within a 12-km-resolution downscaling of late-20th and mid-21st century time periods of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model global climate change scenario run. The number of Santa Ana days per winter season is approximately 20% fewer in the mid 21st century compared to the late 20th century. Since the only systematic and sustained difference between these two periods is the level of anthropogenic forcing, this effect is anthropogenic in origin. In both time periods, Santa Ana winds are partly katabatically-driven by a temperature difference between the cold wintertime air pooling in the desert against coastal mountains and the adjacent warm air over the ocean. However, this katabatic mechanism is significantly weaker during the mid 21st century time period. This occurs because of the well-documented differential warming associated with transient climate change, with more warming in the desert interior than over the ocean. Thus the mechanism responsible for the decrease in Santa Ana frequency originates from a well-known aspect of the climate response to increasing greenhouse gases, but cannot be understood or simulated without mesoscale atmospheric dynamics. In addition to the change in Santa Ana frequency, we investigate changes during Santa Anas in two other meteorological variables known to be relevant to fire weather conditions—relative humidity and temperature. We find a decrease in the relative humidity and an increase in temperature. Both these changes would favor fire. A fire behavior model accounting for changes in wind, temperature, and relative humidity simultaneously is necessary to draw firm conclusions about future fire risk and growth associated with Santa Ana events. While our results are somewhat limited by a relatively small sample size, they illustrate an observed and explainable regional change in climate due to plausible mesoscale processes.
Changes in wintertime 10 m winds due to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation are examined using a 6 km resolution climate simulation of Southern California covering the period from 1959 through 2001. Wind speed statistics based on regional averages reveal a general signal of increased mean wind speeds and wind speed variability during El Niño across the region. An opposite and nearly as strong signal of decreased wind speed variability during La Niña is also found. These signals are generally more significant than the better-known signals in precipitation. In spite of these regional-scale generalizations, there are significant sub-regional mesoscale structures in the wind speed impacts. In some cases, impacts on mean winds and wind variability at the sub-regional scale are opposite to those of the region as a whole. All of these signals can be interpreted in terms of shifts in occurrences of the region’s main wind regimes due to the El Niño phenomenon. The results of this study can be used to understand how interannual wind speed variations in regions of Southern California are influenced by the El Niño phenomenon.
Using output from a high‐resolution meteorological simulation, we evaluate the sensitivity of southern California wind energy generation to variations in key characteristics of current wind turbines. These characteristics include hub height, rotor diameter and rated power, and depend on turbine make and model. They shape the turbine's power curve and thus have large implications for the energy generation capacity of wind farms. For each characteristic, we find complex and substantial geographical variations in the sensitivity of energy generation. However, the sensitivity associated with each characteristic can be predicted by a single corresponding climate statistic, greatly simplifying understanding of the relationship between climate and turbine optimization for energy production. In the case of the sensitivity to rotor diameter, the change in energy output per unit change in rotor diameter at any location is directly proportional to the weighted average wind speed between the cut‐in speed and the rated speed. The sensitivity to rated power variations is likewise captured by the percent of the wind speed distribution between the turbines rated and cut‐out speeds. Finally, the sensitivity to hub height is proportional to lower atmospheric wind shear. Using a wind turbine component cost model, we also evaluate energy output increase per dollar investment in each turbine characteristic. We find that rotor diameter increases typically provide a much larger wind energy boost per dollar invested, although there are some zones where investment in the other two characteristics is competitive. Our study underscores the need for joint analysis of regional climate, turbine engineering and economic modeling to optimize wind energy production.
A physically-based statistical modeling approach to downscale coarse resolution reanalysis near-surface winds over a region of complex terrain is developed and tested in this study. Our approach is guided by physical variables and meteorological relationships that are important for determining near-surface wind flow. Preliminary fine scale winds are estimated by correcting the course-to-fine grid resolution mismatch in roughness length. Guided by the physics shaping near-surface winds, we then formulate a multivariable linear regression model which uses near-surface micrometeorological variables and the preliminary estimates as predictors to calculate the final wind products. The coarse-to-fine grid resolution ratio is approximately 10–1 for our study region of southern California. A validated 3-km resolution dynamically-downscaled wind dataset is used to train and validate our method. Winds from our statistical modeling approach accurately reproduce the dynamically-downscaled near-surface wind field with wind speed magnitude and wind direction errors of <1.5 ms−1 and 30°, respectively. This approach can greatly accelerate the production of near-surface wind fields that are much more accurate than reanalysis data, while limiting the amount of computational and time intensive dynamical downscaling. Future studies will evaluate the ability of this approach to downscale other reanalysis data and climate model outputs with varying coarse-to-fine grid resolutions and domains of interest.