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Transient Cold Air Drainage down a Shallow Valley

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  • 1 NorthWest Research Associates, Redmond, Washington
  • 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Drainage of cold air down a small valley and associated near-surface wind maxima are examined from 20 stations with sonic anemometers at 1 m and from a 20-m tower that includes six sonic anemometers in the lowest 5 m, deployed in the Shallow Cold Pool Experiment (SCP). The small valley is about 270 m wide and 12 m deep with a downvalley slope of 2%–3%. The momentum budget indicates that the flow is driven by the buoyancy deficit of the flow and opposed primarily by the stress divergence while the remaining terms are estimated to be at least an order of magnitude smaller. This analysis also reveals major difficulties in quantifying such a budget due to uncertainties in the measurements, sensitivity to choice of averaging time, and sensitivity to measurement heights.

Wind maxima occur as low as 0.5 m in the downvalley drainage flow—the lowest observational level. The downvalley cold air drainage and wind maxima are frequently disrupted by transient modes that sometimes lead to significant vertical mixing. On average, the downvalley drainage of cold air occurs with particularly weak turbulence with stronger turbulence above the drainage flow. The momentum flux profile responds to the shear reversal at the wind maximum on a vertical scale of 1 m or less, suggesting the important role of finescale turbulent diffusion.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: L. Mahrt, 2171 NW Kari Pl., Corvallis, OR 97330. E-mail: mahrt@nwra.com

Abstract

Drainage of cold air down a small valley and associated near-surface wind maxima are examined from 20 stations with sonic anemometers at 1 m and from a 20-m tower that includes six sonic anemometers in the lowest 5 m, deployed in the Shallow Cold Pool Experiment (SCP). The small valley is about 270 m wide and 12 m deep with a downvalley slope of 2%–3%. The momentum budget indicates that the flow is driven by the buoyancy deficit of the flow and opposed primarily by the stress divergence while the remaining terms are estimated to be at least an order of magnitude smaller. This analysis also reveals major difficulties in quantifying such a budget due to uncertainties in the measurements, sensitivity to choice of averaging time, and sensitivity to measurement heights.

Wind maxima occur as low as 0.5 m in the downvalley drainage flow—the lowest observational level. The downvalley cold air drainage and wind maxima are frequently disrupted by transient modes that sometimes lead to significant vertical mixing. On average, the downvalley drainage of cold air occurs with particularly weak turbulence with stronger turbulence above the drainage flow. The momentum flux profile responds to the shear reversal at the wind maximum on a vertical scale of 1 m or less, suggesting the important role of finescale turbulent diffusion.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: L. Mahrt, 2171 NW Kari Pl., Corvallis, OR 97330. E-mail: mahrt@nwra.com
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