Structure of a Narrow Cold Front in the Boundary Layer: Observations versus Model Simulation

Victoria A. Sinclair Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

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Sami Niemelä Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

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Matti Leskinen Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

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Abstract

A narrow and shallow cold front that passed over Finland during the night 30–31 October 2007 is analyzed using model output and observations primarily from the Helsinki Testbed. The aim is to describe the structure of the front, especially within the planetary boundary layer, identify how this structure evolved, and determine the ability of a numerical model to correctly predict this structure. The front was shallow with a small (2.5–3 K) temperature decrease associated with it, which is attributed to the synoptic evolution of the cold front from a frontal wave on a mature, trailing cold front in a region of weak upper-level forcing and where the midtroposphere was strongly stratified. Within the boundary layer, the frontal surface was vertical and the frontal zone was narrow (<8 km). The small cross-front scale was probably a consequence of the weak frontolytical turbulent mixing occurring at night, at high latitudes, combined with strong, localized frontogenetic forcing driven by convergence. The model simulated the mesoscale evolution of the front well, but overestimated the width of the frontal zone. Within the boundary layer, the model adequately predicted the stratification and near-surface temperatures ahead of, and within, the frontal zone, but failed to correctly predict the thermal inversion that developed in the stably stratified postfrontal air mass. This case study highlights the complex structure of fronts both within the nocturnal boundary layer, and in a location far from regions of cyclogenesis, and hence the challenges that both forecasters and operational models face.

Corresponding author address: Victoria Sinclair, Department of Physics, P.O. Box 48, FI-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: victoria.sinclair@helsinki.fi

Abstract

A narrow and shallow cold front that passed over Finland during the night 30–31 October 2007 is analyzed using model output and observations primarily from the Helsinki Testbed. The aim is to describe the structure of the front, especially within the planetary boundary layer, identify how this structure evolved, and determine the ability of a numerical model to correctly predict this structure. The front was shallow with a small (2.5–3 K) temperature decrease associated with it, which is attributed to the synoptic evolution of the cold front from a frontal wave on a mature, trailing cold front in a region of weak upper-level forcing and where the midtroposphere was strongly stratified. Within the boundary layer, the frontal surface was vertical and the frontal zone was narrow (<8 km). The small cross-front scale was probably a consequence of the weak frontolytical turbulent mixing occurring at night, at high latitudes, combined with strong, localized frontogenetic forcing driven by convergence. The model simulated the mesoscale evolution of the front well, but overestimated the width of the frontal zone. Within the boundary layer, the model adequately predicted the stratification and near-surface temperatures ahead of, and within, the frontal zone, but failed to correctly predict the thermal inversion that developed in the stably stratified postfrontal air mass. This case study highlights the complex structure of fronts both within the nocturnal boundary layer, and in a location far from regions of cyclogenesis, and hence the challenges that both forecasters and operational models face.

Corresponding author address: Victoria Sinclair, Department of Physics, P.O. Box 48, FI-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: victoria.sinclair@helsinki.fi
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