Variability of cloudiness over mountain terrain in the western United States

Sumargo, E, Cayan DR.  2017.  Variability of cloudiness over mountain terrain in the western United States. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 18:1227-1245.

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central sierra-nevada, climate-change, earths radiation budget, hydrological cycle, Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences, model, north-america, satellite data, snow, solar-radiation, storm tracks, surface


This study investigates the spatial and temporal variability of cloudiness across mountain zones in the western United States. Daily average cloud albedo is derived from a 19-yr series (1996-2014) of half-hourly Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) images. During springtime when incident radiation is active in driving snowmelt-runoff processes, the magnitude of daily cloud variations can exceed 50% of long-term averages. Even when aggregated over 3-month periods, cloud albedo varies by +/- 10% of long-term averages in many locations. Rotated empirical orthogonal functions (REOFs) of daily cloud albedo anomalies over high-elevation regions of the western conterminous United States identify distinct regional patterns, wherein the first five REOFs account for; similar to 67% of the total variance. REOF1 is centered over Northern California and Oregon and is pronounced between November and March. REOF2 is centered over the interior northwest and is accentuated between March and July. Each of the REOF/rotated principal components (RPC) modes associates with anomalous large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns and one or more large-scale teleconnection indices (Arctic Oscillation, Nino-3.4, and Pacific-North American), which helps to explain why anomalous cloudiness patterns take on regional spatial scales and contain substantial variability over seasonal time scales.