Extreme Wet Bulb Temperatures in China: the Significant Role of Moisture

Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 13:40
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This paper investigates the extreme wet bulb temperatures (TWs) in China, with a focus on understanding the relative contributions of temperature and moisture to the extremes. Analysis of station observations shows that daily extreme temperatures (T), specific humidity (q) and TWs generally co-occur in southeastern China while extreme TW and T rarely overlap in the arid and semi-arid North and Northwest China. Overall, q contributes more than T to extreme TWs, especially in North and Northwest China. Based on the relative contributions of q and T, regional extreme TW events are classified as q-dominated and T-dominated, respectively, to study their large-scale environment. Cluster analysis of global reanalysis data shows that extreme TWs are generally accompanied by increased surface air temperature and humidity, concomitant with anomalous high-pressure and notable water vapor flux convergence. However, important differences are also seen in the large-scale environment during q-dominated and T-dominated extreme TWs. During q-dominated extreme TWs, the large-scale environment favors convection, as indicated by ascending motions, decreased downward solar radiation (DSR) as well as increased precipitable water and near surface relative humidity. In contrast, during T-dominated extreme TWs, convection is inhibited by the large-scale environment that features descending motion and increased DSR, decreased precipitable water as well as decreased relative humidity. Consistent with the contrasting environments, we demonstrate that T-dominated extreme TWs tend to last longer than q-dominated extremes. Given the significant role of moisture in extreme TWs, more research is needed to understand its impacts on heat stress now and in the future.

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