An evaluation of the impact of aerosol particles on weather forecasts from a biomass burning aerosol event over the Midwestern United States: observational-based analysis of surface temperature
Abstract. A major continental-scale biomass burning smoke event from 28–30 June 2015, spanning central Canada through the eastern seaboard of the United States, resulted in unforecasted drops in daytime high surface temperatures on the order of 2–5 °C in the upper Midwest. This event, with strong smoke gradients and largely cloud-free conditions, provides a natural laboratory to study how aerosol radiative effects may influence numerical weather prediction (NWP) forecast outcomes. Here, we describe the nature of this smoke event and evaluate the differences in observed near-surface air temperatures between Bismarck (clear) and Grand Forks (overcast smoke), to evaluate to what degree solar radiation forcing from a smoke plume introduces daytime surface cooling, and how this affects model bias in forecasts and analyses. For this event, mid-visible (550 nm) smoke aerosol optical thickness (AOT, τ) reached values above 5. A direct surface cooling efficiency of −1.5 °C per unit AOT (at 550 nm, τ550) was found. A further analysis of European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), United Kingdom Meteorological Office (UKMO) near-surface air temperature forecasts for up to 54 h as a function of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Dark Target AOT data across more than 400 surface stations, also indicated the presence of the daytime aerosol direct cooling effect, but suggested a smaller aerosol direct surface cooling efficiency with magnitude on the order of −0.25 to −1.0 °C per unit τ550. In addition, using observations from the surface stations, uncertainties in near-surface air temperatures from ECMWF, NCEP, and UKMO model runs are estimated. This study further suggests that significant daily changes in τ550 above 1, at which the smoke-aerosol-induced direct surface cooling effect could be comparable in magnitude with model uncertainties, are rare events on a global scale. Thus, incorporating a more realistic smoke aerosol field into numerical models is currently less likely to significantly improve the accuracy of near-surface air temperature forecasts. However, regions such as eastern China, eastern Russia, India, and portions of the Saharan and Taklamakan deserts, where significant daily changes in AOTs are more frequent, are likely to benefit from including an accurate aerosol analysis into numerical weather forecasts.