In attempting to use centimeter-wavelength radars to investigate the early stage of precipitation formation in clouds, “mantle echoes” are rediscovered and shown to come mostly from scattering by small-scale variations in refractive index, a Bragg kind of scattering mechanism. This limits the usefulness of single-wavelength radar for studies of hydrometeor growth, according to data on summer cumulus clouds in North Dakota, Hawaii, and Florida, to values of reflectivity factor above about 10 dBZe with 10-cm radar, 0 dBZe with 5-cm radar, and −10 dBZe with 3-cm radar. These are limits at or above which the backscattered radar signal from the kinds of clouds observed can be assumed to be almost entirely from hydrometeors or (rarely) other particulate material such as insects. Dual-wavelength radar data can provide the desired information about hydrometeors at very low reflectivity levels if assumptions can be made about the inhomogeneities responsible for the Bragg scattering.

The Bragg scattering signal itself probably will be a useful way to probe inhomogeneities one-half the radar wavelength in scale for studying cloud entrainment and mixing processes. However, this use is possible only before scattering from hydrometeors dominates the radar return.

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