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Cloud-Top Temperatures for Precipitating Winter Clouds

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  • 1 NOAA/NESDIS/Satellite Services Division, Camp Springs, Maryland
  • | 2 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 NOAA/NESDIS/Satellite Services Division, Camp Springs, Maryland
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Abstract

To explore the role of cloud microphysics in a large dataset of precipitating clouds, a 6-month dataset of satellite-derived cloud-top brightness temperatures from the longwave infrared band (channel 4) on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) is constructed over precipitation-reporting surface observation stations, producing 144 738 observations of snow, rain, freezing rain, and sleet. The distributions of cloud-top brightness temperatures were constructed for each precipitation type, as well as light, moderate, and heavy snow and rain. The light-snow distribution has a maximum at −16°C, whereas the moderate- and heavy-snow distributions have a bimodal distribution with a primary maximum around −16° to −23°C and a secondary maximum at −35° to −45°C. The light, moderate, and heavy rain, as well as the freezing rain and sleet, distributions are also bimodal with roughly the same temperature maxima, although the colder mode dominates when compared with the snow distributions. The colder of the bimodal peaks trends to lower temperatures with increasing rainfall intensity: −45°C for light rain, −47°C for moderate rain, and −50°C for heavy rain. Like the distributions for snow, the colder peak increases in amplitude relative to the warmer peak at heavier rainfall intensities. The steep slope in the snow distribution for cloud-tops warmer than −15°C is likely due to the combined effects of above-freezing cloud-top temperatures not producing snow, the activation of ice nuclei, the maximum growth rate for ice crystals at temperatures near −15°C, and ice multiplication processes from −3° to −8°C. In contrast, the rain distributions have a gentle slope toward higher cloud-top brightness temperatures (−5° to 0°C), likely due to the warm-rain process. Last, satellite-derived cloud-top brightness temperatures are compared with coincident radiosonde-derived cloud-top temperatures. Although most differences between these two are small, some are as large as ±60°C. The cause of these differences remains unclear, and several hypotheses are offered.

* Current affiliation: Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Physical Sciences, University of Finland, and Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Corresponding author address: Jay Hanna, E/SP23, 5200 Auth Rd., Rm. 401, Camp Springs, MD 20746. Email: jay.hanna@noaa.gov

Abstract

To explore the role of cloud microphysics in a large dataset of precipitating clouds, a 6-month dataset of satellite-derived cloud-top brightness temperatures from the longwave infrared band (channel 4) on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) is constructed over precipitation-reporting surface observation stations, producing 144 738 observations of snow, rain, freezing rain, and sleet. The distributions of cloud-top brightness temperatures were constructed for each precipitation type, as well as light, moderate, and heavy snow and rain. The light-snow distribution has a maximum at −16°C, whereas the moderate- and heavy-snow distributions have a bimodal distribution with a primary maximum around −16° to −23°C and a secondary maximum at −35° to −45°C. The light, moderate, and heavy rain, as well as the freezing rain and sleet, distributions are also bimodal with roughly the same temperature maxima, although the colder mode dominates when compared with the snow distributions. The colder of the bimodal peaks trends to lower temperatures with increasing rainfall intensity: −45°C for light rain, −47°C for moderate rain, and −50°C for heavy rain. Like the distributions for snow, the colder peak increases in amplitude relative to the warmer peak at heavier rainfall intensities. The steep slope in the snow distribution for cloud-tops warmer than −15°C is likely due to the combined effects of above-freezing cloud-top temperatures not producing snow, the activation of ice nuclei, the maximum growth rate for ice crystals at temperatures near −15°C, and ice multiplication processes from −3° to −8°C. In contrast, the rain distributions have a gentle slope toward higher cloud-top brightness temperatures (−5° to 0°C), likely due to the warm-rain process. Last, satellite-derived cloud-top brightness temperatures are compared with coincident radiosonde-derived cloud-top temperatures. Although most differences between these two are small, some are as large as ±60°C. The cause of these differences remains unclear, and several hypotheses are offered.

* Current affiliation: Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Physical Sciences, University of Finland, and Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Corresponding author address: Jay Hanna, E/SP23, 5200 Auth Rd., Rm. 401, Camp Springs, MD 20746. Email: jay.hanna@noaa.gov

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