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Multiscale Mountain Waves Influencing a Major Orographic Precipitation Event

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

This study combines high-resolution mesoscale model simulations and comprehensive airborne Doppler radar observations to identify kinematic structures influencing the production and mesoscale distribution of precipitation and microphysical processes during a period of heavy prefrontal orographic rainfall over the Cascade Mountains of Oregon on 13–14 December 2001 during the second phase of the Improvement of Microphysical Parameterization through Observational Verification Experiment (IMPROVE-2) field program. Airborne-based radar detection of precipitation from well upstream of the Cascades to the lee allows a depiction of terrain-induced wave motions in unprecedented detail.

Two distinct scales of mesoscale wave–like air motions are identified: 1) a vertically propagating mountain wave anchored to the Cascade crest associated with strong midlevel zonal (i.e., cross barrier) flow, and 2) smaller-scale (<20-km horizontal wavelength) undulations over the windward foothills triggered by interaction of the low-level along-barrier flow with multiple ridge–valley corrugations oriented perpendicular to the Cascade crest. These undulations modulate cloud liquid water (CLW) and snow mixing ratios in the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU–NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), with modeled structures comparing favorably to radar-documented zones of enhanced reflectivity and CLW measured by the NOAA P3 aircraft.

Errors in the model representation of a low-level shear layer and the vertically propagating mountain waves are analyzed through a variety of sensitivity tests, which indicated that the mountain wave’s amplitude and placement are extremely sensitive to the planetary boundary layer (PBL) parameterization being employed. The effects of 1) using unsmoothed versus smoothed terrain and 2) the removal of upstream coastal terrain on the flow and precipitation over the Cascades are evaluated through a series of sensitivity experiments. Inclusion of unsmoothed terrain resulted in net surface precipitation increases of ∼4%–14% over the windward slopes relative to the smoothed-terrain simulation. Small-scale waves (<20-km horizontal wavelength) over the windward slopes significantly impact the horizontal pattern of precipitation and hence quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) accuracy.

Corresponding author address: Matthew F. Garvert, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, 408 ATG Building, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: mgarvert@atmos.washington.edu

Abstract

This study combines high-resolution mesoscale model simulations and comprehensive airborne Doppler radar observations to identify kinematic structures influencing the production and mesoscale distribution of precipitation and microphysical processes during a period of heavy prefrontal orographic rainfall over the Cascade Mountains of Oregon on 13–14 December 2001 during the second phase of the Improvement of Microphysical Parameterization through Observational Verification Experiment (IMPROVE-2) field program. Airborne-based radar detection of precipitation from well upstream of the Cascades to the lee allows a depiction of terrain-induced wave motions in unprecedented detail.

Two distinct scales of mesoscale wave–like air motions are identified: 1) a vertically propagating mountain wave anchored to the Cascade crest associated with strong midlevel zonal (i.e., cross barrier) flow, and 2) smaller-scale (<20-km horizontal wavelength) undulations over the windward foothills triggered by interaction of the low-level along-barrier flow with multiple ridge–valley corrugations oriented perpendicular to the Cascade crest. These undulations modulate cloud liquid water (CLW) and snow mixing ratios in the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU–NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), with modeled structures comparing favorably to radar-documented zones of enhanced reflectivity and CLW measured by the NOAA P3 aircraft.

Errors in the model representation of a low-level shear layer and the vertically propagating mountain waves are analyzed through a variety of sensitivity tests, which indicated that the mountain wave’s amplitude and placement are extremely sensitive to the planetary boundary layer (PBL) parameterization being employed. The effects of 1) using unsmoothed versus smoothed terrain and 2) the removal of upstream coastal terrain on the flow and precipitation over the Cascades are evaluated through a series of sensitivity experiments. Inclusion of unsmoothed terrain resulted in net surface precipitation increases of ∼4%–14% over the windward slopes relative to the smoothed-terrain simulation. Small-scale waves (<20-km horizontal wavelength) over the windward slopes significantly impact the horizontal pattern of precipitation and hence quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) accuracy.

Corresponding author address: Matthew F. Garvert, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, 408 ATG Building, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. Email: mgarvert@atmos.washington.edu

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