A coastally trapped disturbance (CTD), characterized by southerly flow at the surface on 10–11 June 1994, was observed from the California Bight to Bodega Bay during a field experiment along the California coast. (North–south approximates the coast-parallel direction.) Data from a special observational network of wind profilers, radio acoustic sounding systems, special surface data, balloon ascents, and a research aircraft were used with satellite and synoptic data to explore both the CTD structure and the regional-scale changes before the event. The disruption of the climatological northerly flow along the central California coast, which preconditioned the area for the development of a CTD, began with the eastward movement of a surface high into Washington and Oregon and the amplification of a thermal low in northern California. As with most CTDs in the region, this occurred over the 2–3 days preceding the CTD’s initiation. These large-scale changes caused westward advection of warm continental air across much of the California coast, which increased temperatures by 10°–12°C in the layer from 0.4 to 2.0 km above mean sea level (MSL) during the 48 h before southerly flow appeared offshore at the surface. The warming reversed the alongshore sea level pressure gradients near the coast by creating a region of pressure falls extending along 600–1000 km of the coast. This also modified the cross-shore pressure gradient and thus the geostrophic alongshore flow. The warming along the coast also increased the strength of the temperature inversion capping the marine boundary layer (MBL) by a factor of 2–4 over 48 h. The synoptic-scale changes also moved the axis of the climatological near-surface, northerly jet much farther offshore from central California and strengthened this jet near the headlands of Capes Mendocino and Blanco. The development and decay of southerly flow at the surface along the coast coincided roughly with the evolution of a mesoscale low 200 km offshore, and of a coastal ridge roughly 100 km wide. However, the CTD initiation also followed a 500-m thickening of the MBL inversion in the California Bight region where a Catalina eddy was initially present. At surface sites, the CTD was marked by the passage of a pressure trough, followed by a gradual shift to southerly flow and the appearance of clouds. The area of low cloud was not coincident with the region of southerly flow. The transition to southerly flow propagated northward along shore at 11.9 ± 0.3 m s −1 on 10 June, stalled for 11–12 h during the part of the diurnal cycle normally characterized by enhanced northerly flow, and then continued propagating northward along shore at 11.6 m s −1 . Both the geostrophic wind and the isallobaric component of the ageostrophic wind were consistent with southerly flow at the surface. Southerly flow was observed up to 5 km MSL in this event and in others, which indicates that the synoptic-scale environment of many CTDs in this region may include a deep tropospheric cyclonic circulation or trough offshore. Both cross-shore and alongshore flights performed by a research aircraft documented the CTD structure and showed that the southerly flow extended at least 100 km offshore and appeared first within the MBL inversion as the inversion thickened upward. While the top of the inversion rose, the height of the inversion’s base remained almost unchanged. The thickening of the inversion decreased with distance offshore, and there was no significant change in the MBL depth (i.e., the inversion base height), until 12–14 h after the surface wind shift. Thus, it is suggested that two-layer, shallow water idealizations may be unable to represent this phenomenon adequately. Nonetheless, the gradual wind shift, the thickening inversion, and the correlation between southerly flow and a mesoscale coastal pressure ridge are consistent with a coastally trapped Kelvin wave, albeit one with a higher-order vertical structure that can exist in a two-layer model. However, the semipermanent nature of the changes in the MBL and its inversion is more characteristic of a shallowly sloped internal bore. The temperature increase and lack of southerly flow exceeding the northward phase speed are inconsistent with gravity current behavior.
Monthly Weather Review – American Meteorological Society
Published: Jan 23, 1997