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Embedded Cellular Convection in Moist Flow past Topography

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  • 1 Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH, Zurich, Switzerland
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Abstract

Marginally unstable air masses impinging upon a mountain ridge may lead to the development of a nominally stratiform orographic cloud with shallow embedded convection. Rainfall amounts and distribution are then strongly influenced by the convective dynamics. In this study, the transition from purely stratiform orographic precipitation to flow regimes with embedded convection is systematically investigated. To this end, idealized cloud-resolving numerical simulations of moist flow past a two-dimensional mountain ridge are performed in a three-dimensional domain. A series of simulations with increasing upstream potential instability shows that the convective dynamics may significantly increase precipitation amounts, intensity, and efficiency, to an extent that cannot be replicated by two-dimensional simulations. Under conditions of uniform upstream flow, the embedded convection is of the cellular type. It is demonstrated that simple stability measures of the upstream profile are poor predictors for the occurrence and depth of embedded convection. A linear stability analysis is performed to understand the linear growth of the developing convective instabilities. Embedded convection results if the growth rates of convective instabilities are compatible with the advective time scale (the time an air parcel spends inside the orographic cloud) and the microphysical time scale (time for rain production and fallout). Individual convective updrafts are anchored to the mean flow. Additional simulations serve to demonstrate that the development of embedded convection and associated precipitation may strongly depend on small-amplitude upstream perturbations. Such perturbations enhance the efficacy of the convective circulations and lead to overall stronger precipitation. The potential implications of this result for the predictability of quantitative precipitation are also discussed.

Corresponding author address: Oliver Fuhrer, Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland. Email: oliver.fuhrer@env.ethz.ch

Abstract

Marginally unstable air masses impinging upon a mountain ridge may lead to the development of a nominally stratiform orographic cloud with shallow embedded convection. Rainfall amounts and distribution are then strongly influenced by the convective dynamics. In this study, the transition from purely stratiform orographic precipitation to flow regimes with embedded convection is systematically investigated. To this end, idealized cloud-resolving numerical simulations of moist flow past a two-dimensional mountain ridge are performed in a three-dimensional domain. A series of simulations with increasing upstream potential instability shows that the convective dynamics may significantly increase precipitation amounts, intensity, and efficiency, to an extent that cannot be replicated by two-dimensional simulations. Under conditions of uniform upstream flow, the embedded convection is of the cellular type. It is demonstrated that simple stability measures of the upstream profile are poor predictors for the occurrence and depth of embedded convection. A linear stability analysis is performed to understand the linear growth of the developing convective instabilities. Embedded convection results if the growth rates of convective instabilities are compatible with the advective time scale (the time an air parcel spends inside the orographic cloud) and the microphysical time scale (time for rain production and fallout). Individual convective updrafts are anchored to the mean flow. Additional simulations serve to demonstrate that the development of embedded convection and associated precipitation may strongly depend on small-amplitude upstream perturbations. Such perturbations enhance the efficacy of the convective circulations and lead to overall stronger precipitation. The potential implications of this result for the predictability of quantitative precipitation are also discussed.

Corresponding author address: Oliver Fuhrer, Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland. Email: oliver.fuhrer@env.ethz.ch

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