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On the Atmospheric Regulation of the Growth of Moderate to Deep Cumulonimbus in a Tropical Environment

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  • 1 School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University, and Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research,* Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 2 Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research,* Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 3 School of Mathematical Sciences, and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 4 Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research,* Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

Some cumulus clouds with tops between 3 and 7 km (Cu3km–7km) remain in this height region throughout their lifetime (congestus) while others develop into deeper clouds (cumulonimbus). This study describes two techniques to identify the congestus and cumulonimbus cloud types using data from scanning weather radar and identifies the atmospheric conditions that regulate these two modes. A two-wet-season cumulus cloud database of the Darwin C-band polarimetric radar is analyzed and the two modes are identified by examining the 0-dBZ cloud-top height (CTH) of the Cu3km–7km cells over a sequence of radar scans. It is found that ~26% of the classified Cu3km–7km population grow into cumulonimbus clouds. The cumulonimbus cells exhibit reflectivities, rain rates, and drop sizes larger than the congestus cells. The occurrence frequency of cumulonimbus cells peak in the afternoon at ~1500 local time—a few hours after the peak in congestus cells. The analysis of Darwin International Airport radiosonde profiles associated with the two types of cells shows no noticeable difference in the thermal stability rates, but a significant difference in midtropospheric (5–10 km) relative humidity. Moister conditions are found in the hours preceding the cumulonimbus cells when compared with the congestus cells. Using a moisture budget dataset derived for the Darwin region, it is shown that the existence of cumulonimbus cells, and hence deep convection, is mainly determined by the presence of the midtroposphere large-scale upward motion and not merely by the presence of congestus clouds prior to deep convection. This contradicts the thermodynamic viewpoint that the midtroposphere moistening prior to deep convection is solely due to the preceding cumulus congestus cells.

A partnership between the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Corresponding author address: Vickal V. Kumar, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, GPO Box 1289, Melbourne 3001, Australia. E-mail: v.kumar@bom.gov.au

Abstract

Some cumulus clouds with tops between 3 and 7 km (Cu3km–7km) remain in this height region throughout their lifetime (congestus) while others develop into deeper clouds (cumulonimbus). This study describes two techniques to identify the congestus and cumulonimbus cloud types using data from scanning weather radar and identifies the atmospheric conditions that regulate these two modes. A two-wet-season cumulus cloud database of the Darwin C-band polarimetric radar is analyzed and the two modes are identified by examining the 0-dBZ cloud-top height (CTH) of the Cu3km–7km cells over a sequence of radar scans. It is found that ~26% of the classified Cu3km–7km population grow into cumulonimbus clouds. The cumulonimbus cells exhibit reflectivities, rain rates, and drop sizes larger than the congestus cells. The occurrence frequency of cumulonimbus cells peak in the afternoon at ~1500 local time—a few hours after the peak in congestus cells. The analysis of Darwin International Airport radiosonde profiles associated with the two types of cells shows no noticeable difference in the thermal stability rates, but a significant difference in midtropospheric (5–10 km) relative humidity. Moister conditions are found in the hours preceding the cumulonimbus cells when compared with the congestus cells. Using a moisture budget dataset derived for the Darwin region, it is shown that the existence of cumulonimbus cells, and hence deep convection, is mainly determined by the presence of the midtroposphere large-scale upward motion and not merely by the presence of congestus clouds prior to deep convection. This contradicts the thermodynamic viewpoint that the midtroposphere moistening prior to deep convection is solely due to the preceding cumulus congestus cells.

A partnership between the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Corresponding author address: Vickal V. Kumar, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, GPO Box 1289, Melbourne 3001, Australia. E-mail: v.kumar@bom.gov.au
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