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Physical Origin of a Wet Microburst: Observations and Theory

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  • 1 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
  • | 3 University of Colorado and NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

A unique set of Doppler and polarimetric radar observations were made of a microburst-producing storm in Amazonia during the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Large-Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere (LBA) field experiment. The key features are high reflectivity (50 dBZ) and modest size hail (up to 0.8 mm) in high liquid water concentrations (>4 g m−3) at the 5-km 0°C level, melting near the 3-km level as evidenced by the Doppler spectrum width on the profiler radar (PR), by differential polarization on the S-band dual-polarized radar (S-POL), and a sharp downward acceleration from 2.8 to 1.6 km to a peak downdraft of 11 m s−1, followed by a weak microburst of 15 m s−1 at the surface. The latter features closely match the initial conditions and results of the Srivastava numerical model of a microburst produced by melting hail. It is suggested that only modest size hail in large concentrations that melt aloft can produce wet microbursts. The narrower the distribution of hail particle sizes, the more confined will be the layer of melting and negative buoyancy, and the more intense the microburst. It is hypothesized that the timing of the conditions leading to the microburst is determined by the occurrence of an updraft of proper magnitude in the layer in which supercooled water accounts for the growth of hail or graupel.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David Atlas, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 910, Greenbelt, MD 20771. Email: datlas@radar.gsfc.nasa.gov

Abstract

A unique set of Doppler and polarimetric radar observations were made of a microburst-producing storm in Amazonia during the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Large-Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere (LBA) field experiment. The key features are high reflectivity (50 dBZ) and modest size hail (up to 0.8 mm) in high liquid water concentrations (>4 g m−3) at the 5-km 0°C level, melting near the 3-km level as evidenced by the Doppler spectrum width on the profiler radar (PR), by differential polarization on the S-band dual-polarized radar (S-POL), and a sharp downward acceleration from 2.8 to 1.6 km to a peak downdraft of 11 m s−1, followed by a weak microburst of 15 m s−1 at the surface. The latter features closely match the initial conditions and results of the Srivastava numerical model of a microburst produced by melting hail. It is suggested that only modest size hail in large concentrations that melt aloft can produce wet microbursts. The narrower the distribution of hail particle sizes, the more confined will be the layer of melting and negative buoyancy, and the more intense the microburst. It is hypothesized that the timing of the conditions leading to the microburst is determined by the occurrence of an updraft of proper magnitude in the layer in which supercooled water accounts for the growth of hail or graupel.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David Atlas, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 910, Greenbelt, MD 20771. Email: datlas@radar.gsfc.nasa.gov

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