The dominant synoptic-scale modes of North American monsoon precipitation

Simona Seastrand, Yolande Serra, Christopher Castro, Elizabeth Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


In this study, we explore the mechanisms of synoptic rainfall variability using observations from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite. Although previously shown to have an important impact on North American monsoon rainfall, tropical cyclones are excluded from this analysis, in order to focus on more frequent synoptic disturbances within the region. A rotated empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of North American monsoon rainfall during June to September 2002-2009 suggests that low-level tropical disturbances contribute to the leading two modes of precipitation variability within this region. These disturbances result in gulf surges or low-level surges of moisture up the Gulf of California, and provide a key moisture source to facilitate the development of organized convection. In the first mode, the low-level trough brings precipitation to lower elevations along the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental south of Hermosillo, Mexico and over the southern Baja Peninsula. In the second mode, the low-level trough interacts with an upper-level inverted trough enhancing precipitation into the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico. In particular, the upper-level trough contributes to the easterly to northeasterly shear across the region, favouring mesoscale convective organization and enhanced deep convection over the Sierra Madre Occidental and higher elevations in southeast Arizona. The EOF methodology offers an objective approach for determining the dominant modes of precipitation for the monsoon region useful for identifying past and monitoring future low-frequency impacts on these modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2019-2032
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 30 2015


  • Easterly waves
  • Gulf surge
  • Mesoscale convective systems
  • North American monsoon
  • Upper-level inverted troughs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The dominant synoptic-scale modes of North American monsoon precipitation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this