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Keywords:

  • precipitation;
  • rainfall;
  • synoptic;
  • southeastern United States;
  • summer;
  • circulation;
  • Bermuda High;
  • atmospheric moistening

Abstract

This paper assesses the variability and trends in summer-season rainfall from 1948 to 2009 for the Atlanta, Georgia region. The rainfall variables are total rainfall, frequency of rainfall days, and frequency of heavy-rainfall days. The main methods involve classifying daily 500-hPa geopotential height fields into synoptic types, determining the rainfall characteristics of the synoptic types, testing for significant temporal trends in rainfall, middle-troposphere circulation, lower-troposphere circulation, and atmospheric humidity, and using multiple linear regression to determine the impact of circulation and humidity variables on inter-annual variations in the rainfall variables. There were a total of eight synoptic types: the wet types involved troughing across or to the immediate west of the Atlanta region, while the dry types involved either an anticyclone across or to the immediate west of the region. The rainfall variables and two lower-troposphere circulation indices, the Bermuda High Index (BHI) and the Western Bermuda High Index (WBHI), had significant positive trends in variance over time. Among the three rainfall variables, only the frequency of rainfall days had a significant trend: the periods 1976–2009 and 1977–2009 had significant positive trends in rainfall days. The BHI had a significant positive trend from the 1970s to 2009, and the western ridge of the Bermuda High moved significantly southeastward from approximately the mid-1970s to 2009. Atmospheric humidity (i.e. 850-hPa specific humidity, 500-hPa specific humidity, and precipitable water) over the region had significant positive trends during most periods, with all humidity variables having significant increases from the 1970s to 2009. Increased interannual variability in the WBHI appears to be the cause of the increased variance in rainfall variables. An increase in atmospheric humidity, which is actually a global phenomenon, appears to be the principal cause of the increase in rainfall days during the past three decades. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society