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Keywords:

  • extreme rainfall;
  • tropical weather and climate;
  • Panama Canal;
  • ENSO;
  • inter-annual variability;
  • low-level jet

ABSTRACT

Monthly accumulated precipitation over the tropical Panama Canal Watershed has the largest interannual variability in December, with the wettest month on record being December 2010. December accumulated precipitation over the watershed is found to vary with sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in both the tropical North Atlantic and equatorial Pacific oceans, but a considerably stronger relationship is found with the difference between these SST anomalies. The configuration of SST anomalies in these two ocean basins during December has a strong effect on the flux of low-level moisture over the Caribbean Sea, southern Central America, and the eastern Pacific Ocean through the modification of the Caribbean Low-Level Jet (CLLJ) and the Chorro del Occidente Colombiano (CHOCO) jet. Wet Decembers in the watershed are associated with cool (warm) SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific (North Atlantic), a weakening (strengthening) of the CLLJ (CHOCO jet), and increased moisture convergence over and around Panama, with the opposite conditions associated with dry Decembers. The SST anomalies in these two ocean basins affect the distribution of daily precipitation during December differently, with SST anomalies in the Pacific (Atlantic) predominately associated with changes in the frequency of heavier (lighter) precipitation. The analysis shows that December 2010 followed the pattern of associations of wet Decembers but with the highest intensity of precipitation and CHOCO jet strength.