The Characteristics and Evolution of Supercooled Water in Wintertime Storms over the Sierra Nevada: A Summary of Microwave Radiometric Measurements Taken during the Sierra Cooperative Pilot Project

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  • a Bureau of Reclamation, Auburn, California
  • | b Electronic Techniques, Inc., Auburn, California
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Abstract

A comprehensive examination of the evolution and vertical distribution of supercooled liquid water in Sierra Nevada winter storms was completed as part of the Sierra Cooperative Pilot Project. Measurements of supercooled water in 63 storms, which affected the area from the 1983/84 through the 1986/87 winter field seasons, were made with a dual-channel microwave radiometer located near the Sierra Nevada crestline.

The analyses were carried out in two parts. In the first part, winter storms were grouped into two general categories according to the prevailing flow and resultant storm trajectory. The two storm types consisted of those propagating in zonal flow and those in meridional flow. A complete description of the storm typing is provided. Storms in zonal flow were either developing, occluding, or dissipating during the time they affected the Sierra Nevada. The stage of evolution of the storm dictated the characteristics of supercooled water observed during the storm's passage over the Sierra Nevada. The presence of supercooled water in meridional storms was influenced mainly by the trajectory of the storm.

Results indicated that zonal storms had the most sustained periods of supecooled water in the postfrontal region, while sustained supercooled water measurements in meridional storms were usually greatest within the prefrontal portions of the storm. These periods of supercooled water were associated primarily with orographic clouds. Studies of the vertical supercooled water distribution showed that saturation often existed within 1 km of the local terrain when supercooled water was measured by the radiometer. Fifty percent of the rawinsondes launched through supercooled water-bearing clouds measured water-saturated layers deeper than 0.5 km. Saturated layers were found to exist most often between −8° and and −10°C, although they were often present over a much wider temperature range.

Conditions favorable for ice crystal growth were common, which supports the pursuit of precipitation enhancement as a means of supplementing regional water supplies.

Abstract

A comprehensive examination of the evolution and vertical distribution of supercooled liquid water in Sierra Nevada winter storms was completed as part of the Sierra Cooperative Pilot Project. Measurements of supercooled water in 63 storms, which affected the area from the 1983/84 through the 1986/87 winter field seasons, were made with a dual-channel microwave radiometer located near the Sierra Nevada crestline.

The analyses were carried out in two parts. In the first part, winter storms were grouped into two general categories according to the prevailing flow and resultant storm trajectory. The two storm types consisted of those propagating in zonal flow and those in meridional flow. A complete description of the storm typing is provided. Storms in zonal flow were either developing, occluding, or dissipating during the time they affected the Sierra Nevada. The stage of evolution of the storm dictated the characteristics of supercooled water observed during the storm's passage over the Sierra Nevada. The presence of supercooled water in meridional storms was influenced mainly by the trajectory of the storm.

Results indicated that zonal storms had the most sustained periods of supecooled water in the postfrontal region, while sustained supercooled water measurements in meridional storms were usually greatest within the prefrontal portions of the storm. These periods of supercooled water were associated primarily with orographic clouds. Studies of the vertical supercooled water distribution showed that saturation often existed within 1 km of the local terrain when supercooled water was measured by the radiometer. Fifty percent of the rawinsondes launched through supercooled water-bearing clouds measured water-saturated layers deeper than 0.5 km. Saturated layers were found to exist most often between −8° and and −10°C, although they were often present over a much wider temperature range.

Conditions favorable for ice crystal growth were common, which supports the pursuit of precipitation enhancement as a means of supplementing regional water supplies.

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