This study uses the most recent simulations from all available fully coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models (CGCMs) to investigate whether the North American monsoon (NAM) precipitation seasonal-interannual variations are simulated and, if so, whether the key underlying physical mechanisms are correctly represented. This is facilitated by first identifying key centers where observed large-scale circulation fields and sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are significantly correlated with the NAM precipitation averages over the core region (central-northwest Mexico) and then examining if the modeled and observed patterns agree. Two new findings result from the analysis of observed NAM interannual variations. First, precipitation exhibits significantly high positive (negative) correlations with 200-hPa meridional wind centered to the northwest (southeast) of the core region in June and September (July and August). As such, wet conditions are associated with strong anomalous southerly upper-level flow on the northwest flank during the monsoon onset and retreat, but with anomalous northerly flow on the southeast flank, during the peak of the monsoon. They are often identified with a cyclonic circulation anomaly pattern over the central Great Plains for the July-August peak monsoon and, reversely, an anticyclonic anomaly pattern centered over the northern (southern) Great Plains for the June (September) transition. Second, wet NAM conditions in June and July are also connected with a SST pattern of positive anomalies in the eastern Pacific and negative anomalies in the Gulf of Mexico, acting to reduce the climatological mean gradient between the two oceans. This pattern suggests a possible surface gradient forcing that favors a westward extension of the North Atlantic subtropical ridge. These two observed features connected to the NAM serve as the metric for quantitative evaluation of the model performance in simulating the important NAM precipitation mechanisms. Out of 17 CGCMs, only the Meteorological Research Institute (MRI) model with a medium resolution consistently captures the observed NAM precipitation annual cycle (having a realistic amplitude and no phase shift) as well as interannual covariations with the planetary circulation patterns (having the correct sign and comparably high magnitude of correlation) throughout the summer. For the metric of correlations with 200-hPa meridional wind, there is general agreement among all CGCMs with observations for June and September. This may indicate that large-scale forcings dominate interannual variability for the monsoon onset and retreat, while variability of the peak of the monsoon in July and August may be largely influenced by local processes that are more challenging for CGCMs to resolve. For the metric of correlations with SSTs, good agreement is found only in June. These results suggest that the NAM precipitation interannual variability may likely be determined by large-scale circulation anomalies, while its predictability based on remote signals such as SSTs may not be sufficiently robust to be well captured by current CGCMs, with the exception of the June monsoon onset which is potentially more predictable.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atmospheric Science