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Modeling Backscatter Properties of Snowfall at Millimeter Wavelengths

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, and NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Ground-based vertically pointing and airborne/spaceborne nadir-pointing millimeter-wavelength radars are being increasingly used worldwide. Though such radars are primarily designed for cloud remote sensing, they can also be used for precipitation measurements including snowfall estimates. In this study, modeling of snowfall radar properties is performed for the common frequencies of millimeter-wavelength radars such as those used by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (Ka and W bands) and the CloudSat mission (W band). Realistic snowflake models including aggregates and single dendrite crystals were used. The model input included appropriate mass–size and terminal fall velocity–size relations and snowflake orientation and shape assumptions. It was shown that unlike in the Rayleigh scattering regime, which is often applicable for longer radar wavelengths, the spherical model does not generally satisfactorily describe scattering of larger snowflakes at millimeter wavelengths. This is especially true when, due to aerodynamic forcing, these snowflakes are oriented primarily with their major dimensions in the horizontal plane and the zenith/nadir radar pointing geometry is used. As a result of modeling using the experimental snowflake size distributions, radar reflectivity–liquid equivalent snowfall rates (ZeS) relations are suggested for “dry” snowfalls that consist of mostly unrimed snowflakes containing negligible amounts of liquid water. Owing to uncertainties in the model assumptions, these relations, which are derived for the common Ka- and W-band radar frequencies, have significant variability in their coefficients that can exceed a factor of 2 or so. Modeling snowfall attenuation suggests that the attenuation effects in “dry” snowfall can be neglected at the Ka band for most practical cases, while at the W band attenuation may need to be accounted for in heavier snowfalls observed at longer ranges.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Sergey Matrosov, R/PSD2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: Sergey.Matrosov@noaa.gov

Abstract

Ground-based vertically pointing and airborne/spaceborne nadir-pointing millimeter-wavelength radars are being increasingly used worldwide. Though such radars are primarily designed for cloud remote sensing, they can also be used for precipitation measurements including snowfall estimates. In this study, modeling of snowfall radar properties is performed for the common frequencies of millimeter-wavelength radars such as those used by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (Ka and W bands) and the CloudSat mission (W band). Realistic snowflake models including aggregates and single dendrite crystals were used. The model input included appropriate mass–size and terminal fall velocity–size relations and snowflake orientation and shape assumptions. It was shown that unlike in the Rayleigh scattering regime, which is often applicable for longer radar wavelengths, the spherical model does not generally satisfactorily describe scattering of larger snowflakes at millimeter wavelengths. This is especially true when, due to aerodynamic forcing, these snowflakes are oriented primarily with their major dimensions in the horizontal plane and the zenith/nadir radar pointing geometry is used. As a result of modeling using the experimental snowflake size distributions, radar reflectivity–liquid equivalent snowfall rates (ZeS) relations are suggested for “dry” snowfalls that consist of mostly unrimed snowflakes containing negligible amounts of liquid water. Owing to uncertainties in the model assumptions, these relations, which are derived for the common Ka- and W-band radar frequencies, have significant variability in their coefficients that can exceed a factor of 2 or so. Modeling snowfall attenuation suggests that the attenuation effects in “dry” snowfall can be neglected at the Ka band for most practical cases, while at the W band attenuation may need to be accounted for in heavier snowfalls observed at longer ranges.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Sergey Matrosov, R/PSD2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: Sergey.Matrosov@noaa.gov

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