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Temporal Relations of Column Water Vapor and Tropical Precipitation

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
  • 2 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Empirical studies using satellite data and radiosondes have shown that precipitation increases with column water vapor (CWV) in the tropics, and that this increase is much steeper above some critical CWV value. Here, eight years of 1-min-resolution microwave radiometer and optical gauge data at Nauru Island are analyzed to better understand the relationships among CWV, column liquid water (CLW), and precipitation at small time scales. CWV is found to have large autocorrelation times compared with CLW and precipitation. Before precipitation events, CWV increases on both a synoptic-scale time period and a subsequent shorter time period consistent with mesoscale convective activity; the latter period is associated with the highest CWV levels. Probabilities of precipitation increase greatly with CWV. Given initial high CWV, this increased probability of precipitation persists at least 10–12 h. Even in periods of high CWV, however, probabilities of initial precipitation in a 5-min period remain low enough that there tends to be a lag before the start of the next precipitation event. This is consistent with precipitation occurring stochastically within environments containing high CWV, with the latter being established by a combination of synoptic-scale and mesoscale forcing.

* Current affiliation: NCAS Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Christopher E. Holloway, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: chollow@ucla.edu

Abstract

Empirical studies using satellite data and radiosondes have shown that precipitation increases with column water vapor (CWV) in the tropics, and that this increase is much steeper above some critical CWV value. Here, eight years of 1-min-resolution microwave radiometer and optical gauge data at Nauru Island are analyzed to better understand the relationships among CWV, column liquid water (CLW), and precipitation at small time scales. CWV is found to have large autocorrelation times compared with CLW and precipitation. Before precipitation events, CWV increases on both a synoptic-scale time period and a subsequent shorter time period consistent with mesoscale convective activity; the latter period is associated with the highest CWV levels. Probabilities of precipitation increase greatly with CWV. Given initial high CWV, this increased probability of precipitation persists at least 10–12 h. Even in periods of high CWV, however, probabilities of initial precipitation in a 5-min period remain low enough that there tends to be a lag before the start of the next precipitation event. This is consistent with precipitation occurring stochastically within environments containing high CWV, with the latter being established by a combination of synoptic-scale and mesoscale forcing.

* Current affiliation: NCAS Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Christopher E. Holloway, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: chollow@ucla.edu

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