Meteorological Analysis of the Pacific Northwest June 2021 Heatwave

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Monthly Weather Review

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During the last week of June 2021, the Pacific Northwest region of North America experienced a record-breaking heatwave of historic proportions. All-time high temperature records were shattered, often by several degrees, across many locations, with Canada setting a new national record, the state of Washington setting a new record, and the state of Oregon tying its previous record. Here we diagnose key meteorology that contributed to this heatwave. The event was associated with a highly anomalous midtropospheric ridge, with peak 500-hPa geopotential height anomalies centered over central British Columbia. This ridge developed over several days as part of a large-scale wave train. Back trajectory analysis indicates that synoptic-scale subsidence and associated adiabatic warming played a key role in enhancing the magnitude of the heat to the south of the ridge peak, while diabatic heating was dominant closer to the ridge center. Easterly/offshore flow inhibited marine cooling and contributed additional downslope warming along the western portions of the region. A notable surface thermally induced trough was evident throughout the event over western Oregon and Washington. An eastward shift of the thermal trough, following the eastward migration of the 500-hPa ridge, allowed an inland surge of cooler marine air and dramatic 24-h cooling, especially along the western periphery of the region. Large-scale horizontal warm-air advection played a minimal role. When compared with past highly amplified ridges over the region, this event was characterized by much higher 500-hPa geopotential heights, a stronger thermal trough, and stronger offshore flow.


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