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Climatology of Winter Orographic Precipitation over the Subtropical Central Andes and Associated Synoptic and Regional Characteristics

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  • 1 Programa Regional de Meteorología, Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales (IANIGLA), CCT–CONICET, Mendoza, Argentina
  • 2 Centro de Investigaciones del Mar y la Atmósfera, CONICET-UBA, and Departamento de Ciencias de la Atmósfera y Océanos, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Abstract

Winter orographic precipitation over the Andes between 30° and 37°S is examined using precipitation gauges in the mountains and adjacent lowlands. Because of the limited number of precipitation gauges, this paper focuses on the large-scale variation in cross-barrier precipitation and does not take into account the fine ridge–valley scale. The maximum amount of precipitation was observed on the windward slope of the mountain range below the crest, which was twice that observed on the low-windward side between 32.5° and 34°S. Toward the east of the crest, precipitation amounts drop sharply, generating a strong cross-barrier gradient. The rain shadow effect is greater in the north (32°–34.5°S) than in the south (35°–36.5°S) of the low-lee side, which is probably due to more baroclinic activity in southernmost latitudes and a southward decrease in the height of the Andes enabling more spillover precipitation. The effect of the Andes on winter precipitation is so marked that it modifies the precipitation regimes in the adjacent windward and leeward lowlands north of 35°S. Based on the fact that ~75% of the wintertime precipitation accumulated in the fourth quartile, through four or five heavy events on average, the synoptic-scale patterns of the heavy (into fourth quartile) orographic precipitation events were identified. Heavy events are strongly related to strong water vapor transport from the Pacific Ocean in the pre-cold-front environment of extratropical cyclones, which would have the form of atmospheric rivers as depicted in the reanalysis and rawinsonde data. The composite fields revealed a marked difference between two subgroups of heavy precipitation events. The extreme (100th–95th percentiles) events are associated with deeper cyclones than those for intense (95th–75th percentiles) events. These deeper cyclones lead to much stronger plumes of water vapor content and cross-barrier moisture flux against the high Andes, resulting in heavier orographic precipitation for extreme events. In addition, regional airflow characteristics suggest that the low-level flow is typically blocked and diverted poleward in the form of an along-barrier jet. On the lee side, downslope flow dominates during heavy events, producing prominent rain shadow effects as denoted by the domain of downslope winds extending to low-leeward side (i.e., zonda wind).

Corresponding author address: Maximiliano Viale, Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales, Av. Adrián Ruiz Leal s/n, Parque Gral. San Martín, CC 330, 5500 Mendoza, Argentina. E-mail: viale@cima.fcen.uba.ar

Abstract

Winter orographic precipitation over the Andes between 30° and 37°S is examined using precipitation gauges in the mountains and adjacent lowlands. Because of the limited number of precipitation gauges, this paper focuses on the large-scale variation in cross-barrier precipitation and does not take into account the fine ridge–valley scale. The maximum amount of precipitation was observed on the windward slope of the mountain range below the crest, which was twice that observed on the low-windward side between 32.5° and 34°S. Toward the east of the crest, precipitation amounts drop sharply, generating a strong cross-barrier gradient. The rain shadow effect is greater in the north (32°–34.5°S) than in the south (35°–36.5°S) of the low-lee side, which is probably due to more baroclinic activity in southernmost latitudes and a southward decrease in the height of the Andes enabling more spillover precipitation. The effect of the Andes on winter precipitation is so marked that it modifies the precipitation regimes in the adjacent windward and leeward lowlands north of 35°S. Based on the fact that ~75% of the wintertime precipitation accumulated in the fourth quartile, through four or five heavy events on average, the synoptic-scale patterns of the heavy (into fourth quartile) orographic precipitation events were identified. Heavy events are strongly related to strong water vapor transport from the Pacific Ocean in the pre-cold-front environment of extratropical cyclones, which would have the form of atmospheric rivers as depicted in the reanalysis and rawinsonde data. The composite fields revealed a marked difference between two subgroups of heavy precipitation events. The extreme (100th–95th percentiles) events are associated with deeper cyclones than those for intense (95th–75th percentiles) events. These deeper cyclones lead to much stronger plumes of water vapor content and cross-barrier moisture flux against the high Andes, resulting in heavier orographic precipitation for extreme events. In addition, regional airflow characteristics suggest that the low-level flow is typically blocked and diverted poleward in the form of an along-barrier jet. On the lee side, downslope flow dominates during heavy events, producing prominent rain shadow effects as denoted by the domain of downslope winds extending to low-leeward side (i.e., zonda wind).

Corresponding author address: Maximiliano Viale, Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales, Av. Adrián Ruiz Leal s/n, Parque Gral. San Martín, CC 330, 5500 Mendoza, Argentina. E-mail: viale@cima.fcen.uba.ar
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