Articles | Volume 12, issue 3
Research article
23 Mar 2012
Research article |  | 23 Mar 2012

Spatial relationship between the atmospheric circulation and the precipitation measured in the western Swiss Alps by means of the analogue method

P. Horton, M. Jaboyedoff, R. Metzger, C. Obled, and R. Marty

Abstract. An adaptation technique based on the synoptic atmospheric circulation to forecast local precipitation, namely the analogue method, has been implemented for the western Swiss Alps. During the calibration procedure, relevance maps were established for the geopotential height data. These maps highlight the locations were the synoptic circulation was found of interest for the precipitation forecasting at two rain gauge stations (Binn and Les Marécottes) that are located both in the alpine Rhône catchment, at a distance of about 100 km from each other. These two stations are sensitive to different atmospheric circulations.

We have observed that the most relevant data for the analogue method can be found where specific atmospheric circulation patterns appear concomitantly with heavy precipitation events. Those skilled regions are coherent with the atmospheric flows illustrated, for example, by means of the back trajectories of air masses. Indeed, the circulation recurrently diverges from the climatology during days with strong precipitation on the southern part of the alpine Rhône catchment. We have found that for over 152 days with precipitation amount above 50 mm at the Binn station, only 3 did not show a trajectory of a southerly flow, meaning that such a circulation was present for 98% of the events.

Time evolution of the relevance maps confirms that the atmospheric circulation variables have significantly better forecasting skills close to the precipitation period, and that it seems pointless for the analogue method to consider circulation information days before a precipitation event as a primary predictor. Even though the occurrence of some critical circulation patterns leading to heavy precipitation events can be detected by precursors at remote locations and 1 week ahead (Grazzini, 2007; Martius et al., 2008), time extrapolation by the analogue method seems to be rather poor. This would suggest, in accordance with previous studies (Obled et al., 2002; Bontron and Obled, 2005), that time extrapolation should be done by the Global Circulation Model, which can process atmospheric variables that can be used by the adaptation method.