Airborne vertically profiling Doppler radar data and output from a ∼1-km-grid-resolution numerical simulation are used to examine how relatively small-scale terrain ridges (∼10–25 km apart and ∼0.5–1.0 km above the surrounding valleys) impact cross-mountain flow, cloud processes, and surface precipitation in deep stratiform precipitation systems. The radar data were collected along fixed flight tracks aligned with the wind, about 100 km long between the Snake River Plain and the Idaho Central Mountains, as part of the 2017 Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime clouds: the Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE). Data from repeat flight legs are composited in order to suppress transient features and retain the effect of the underlying terrain. Simulations closely match observed series of terrain-driven deep gravity waves, although the simulated wave amplitude is slightly exaggerated. The deep waves produce pockets of supercooled liquid water in the otherwise ice-dominated clouds (confirmed by flight-level observations and the model) and distort radar-derived hydrometeor trajectories. Snow particles aloft encounter several wave updrafts and downdrafts before reaching the ground. No significant wavelike modulation of radar reflectivity or model ice water content occurs. The model does indicate substantial localized precipitation enhancement (1.8–3.0 times higher than the mean) peaking just downwind of individual ridges, especially those ridges with the most intense wave updrafts, on account of shallow pockets of high liquid water content on the upwind side, leading to the growth of snow and graupel, falling out mostly downwind of the crest. Radar reflectivity values near the surface are complicated by snowmelt, but suggest a more modest enhancement downwind of individual ridges.
Mountains in the midlatitude belt and elsewhere receive more precipitation than the surrounding lowlands. The mountain terrain often is complex, and it remains unclear exactly where this precipitation enhancement occurs, because weather radars are challenged by beam blockage and the gauge network is too sparse to capture the precipitation heterogeneity over complex terrain. This study uses airborne profiling radar and high-resolution numerical simulations for four winter storms over a series of ridges in Idaho. One key finding is that while instantaneous airborne radar transects of the cross-mountain flow, vertical drafts, and reflectivity contain much transient small-scale information, time-averaged transects look very much like the model transects. The model indicates substantial surface precipitation enhancement over terrain, peaking over and just downwind of individual ridges. Radar observations suggest less enhancement, but the radar-based assessment is uncertain. The second key conclusion is that, even though orographic gravity waves are felt all the way up into the upper troposphere, the orographic precipitation enhancement is due to processes very close to the terrain.
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