A Remote Sensing Survey of the Role of Landform on the Organization of Orographic Precipitation in Central and Southern Mexico

Jason P. Giovannettone Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

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Ana P. Barros Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

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Abstract

Data from NASA’s TRMM satellite and NOAA’s GOES satellites were used to survey the orographic organization of cloud precipitation in central and southern Mexico during the monsoon with two main objectives: 1) to investigate large-scale forcing versus local landform controls, and 2) to compare the results with previous work in the Himalayas. At large scales, the modes of spatial variability of cloudiness were estimated using the empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of GOES brightness temperatures. Terrain modulation of synoptic-scale high-frequency variability (3–5- and 6–9-day cycles normally associated with the propagation of easterly waves) was found to cause higher dispersion in the EOF spectrum, with the first mode explaining less than 30% of the spatial variability in central and southern Mexico as opposed to 50% and higher in the Himalayas. A detailed analysis of the first three EOFs for 1999, an average La Niña year with above average rainfall, and for 2001, a weak La Niña year with below average rainfall, shows that landform (mountain peaks and land–ocean contrast) and large-scale circulation (moisture convergence) alternate as the key controls of regional hydrometeorology in dry and wet years, or as active and break (midsummer drought) phases of the monsoon, respectively. The diurnal cycle is the dominant time scale of variability in 2001, as it is during the midsummer drought in all years. Strong variability at time scales beyond two weeks is only present during the active phases of the monsoon. At the river basin scale, the data show increased cloudiness over the mountain ranges during the afternoon, which moves over the low-lying regions at the foot of the major orographic barriers [the Sierra Madre Occidental (SMO)/Sierra Madre del Sur (SMS) and Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB)], specifically the Balsas and the Rio de Santiago basins at nighttime and in the early morning. At the ridge–valley scale (∼100–200 km), robust day–night (ridge–valley) asymmetries suggest strong local controls on cloud and precipitation, with convective activity along the coastal region of the SMO and topographically forced convection at the foothills of headwater ridges in the Altiplano and the SMS. These day–night spatial shifts in cloudiness and precipitation are similar to those found in the Himalayas at the same spatial scales.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Jason Giovannettone, Institute of Water Resources, Hydrologic Engineering Center, 609 2nd Street, Davis, CA 95616. Email: Jason.P.Giovannettone@usace.army.mil

Abstract

Data from NASA’s TRMM satellite and NOAA’s GOES satellites were used to survey the orographic organization of cloud precipitation in central and southern Mexico during the monsoon with two main objectives: 1) to investigate large-scale forcing versus local landform controls, and 2) to compare the results with previous work in the Himalayas. At large scales, the modes of spatial variability of cloudiness were estimated using the empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis of GOES brightness temperatures. Terrain modulation of synoptic-scale high-frequency variability (3–5- and 6–9-day cycles normally associated with the propagation of easterly waves) was found to cause higher dispersion in the EOF spectrum, with the first mode explaining less than 30% of the spatial variability in central and southern Mexico as opposed to 50% and higher in the Himalayas. A detailed analysis of the first three EOFs for 1999, an average La Niña year with above average rainfall, and for 2001, a weak La Niña year with below average rainfall, shows that landform (mountain peaks and land–ocean contrast) and large-scale circulation (moisture convergence) alternate as the key controls of regional hydrometeorology in dry and wet years, or as active and break (midsummer drought) phases of the monsoon, respectively. The diurnal cycle is the dominant time scale of variability in 2001, as it is during the midsummer drought in all years. Strong variability at time scales beyond two weeks is only present during the active phases of the monsoon. At the river basin scale, the data show increased cloudiness over the mountain ranges during the afternoon, which moves over the low-lying regions at the foot of the major orographic barriers [the Sierra Madre Occidental (SMO)/Sierra Madre del Sur (SMS) and Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB)], specifically the Balsas and the Rio de Santiago basins at nighttime and in the early morning. At the ridge–valley scale (∼100–200 km), robust day–night (ridge–valley) asymmetries suggest strong local controls on cloud and precipitation, with convective activity along the coastal region of the SMO and topographically forced convection at the foothills of headwater ridges in the Altiplano and the SMS. These day–night spatial shifts in cloudiness and precipitation are similar to those found in the Himalayas at the same spatial scales.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Jason Giovannettone, Institute of Water Resources, Hydrologic Engineering Center, 609 2nd Street, Davis, CA 95616. Email: Jason.P.Giovannettone@usace.army.mil

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