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Nicholas M. Leonardo
and
Brian A. Colle

Abstract

Nested idealized baroclinic wave simulations at 4-km and 800-m grid spacing are used to analyze the precipitation structures and their evolution in the comma head of a developing extratropical cyclone. After the cyclone spins up by hour 120, snow multibands develop within a wedge-shaped region east of the near-surface low center within a region of 700–500-hPa potential and conditional instability. The cells deepen and elongate northeastward as they propagate north. There is also an increase in 600–500-hPa southwesterly vertical wind shear prior to band development. The system stops producing bands 12 h later as the differential moisture advection weakens, and the instability is depleted by the convection. Sensitivity experiments are run in which the initial stability and horizontal temperature gradient of the baroclinic wave are adjusted by 5%–10%. A 10% decrease in initial instability results in less than half the control run potential instability by 120 h and the cyclone fails to produce multibands. Meanwhile, a 5% decrease in instability delays the development of multibands by 18 h. Meanwhile, decreasing the initial horizontal temperature gradient by 10% delays the growth of vertical shear and instability, corresponding to multibands developing 12–18 h later. Conversely, increasing the horizontal temperature gradient by 10% corresponds to greater vertical shear, resulting in more prolific multiband activity developing ∼12 h earlier. Overall, the relatively large changes in band characteristics over a ∼12-h period (120–133 h) and band evolutions for the sensitivity experiments highlight the potential predictability challenges.

Significance Statement

Multiple-banded precipitation structures are difficult to predict and can greatly impact snowfall forecasts. This study investigates the precipitation bands in the comma head of a low pressure system in a numerical model to systematically isolate the roles of different ambient conditions. The results emphasize that environments with instability (e.g., air free to rise after small upward displacement) and increasing winds with height favor the development of banded structures. The forecast challenge for these bands is illustrated by starting the model with relatively small changes in the temperature field. Decreasing the instability by 10% suppresses band development, while increasing (decreasing) the horizontal temperature change across the system by 10% corresponds to the bands developing 12 h earlier (later).

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Mariko Oue
,
Brian A. Colle
,
Sandra E. Yuter
,
Pavlos Kollias
,
Phillip Yeh
, and
Laura M. Tomkins

Abstract

Limited knowledge exists about ∼100-m-scale precipitation processes within U.S. northeast coastal snowstorms because of a lack of high-resolution observations. We investigate characteristics of microscale updraft regions within the cyclone comma head and their relationships with snowbands, wind shear, frontogenesis, and vertical mass flux using high-spatiotemporal-resolution vertically pointing Ka-band radar measurements, soundings, and reanalysis data for four snowstorms observed at Stony Brook, New York. Updraft regions are defined as contiguous time–height plotted areas with upward Doppler velocity without hydrometeor sedimentation that is equal to or greater than 0.4 m s−1. Most updraft regions in the time–height data occur on a time scale of seconds (<20 s), which is equivalent to spatial scales < 500 m. These small updraft regions within cloud echo occur more than 30% of the time for three of the four cases and 18% for the other case. They are found at all altitudes and can occur with or without frontogenesis and with or without snowbands. The updraft regions with relatively large Doppler spectrum width (>0.4 m s−1) occur more frequently within midlevels of the storms, where there are strong wind shear layers and moist shear instability layers. This suggests that the dominant forcing for the updrafts appears to be turbulence associated with the vertical shear instability. The updraft regions can be responsible for upward mass flux when they are closer together in space and time. The higher values of column mean upward mass flux often occur during snowband periods.

Significance Statement

Small-scale (<500 m) upward motions within four snowstorms along the U.S. northeast coast are analyzed for the first time using high-spatiotemporal-resolution millimeter-wavelength cloud radar pointed vertically. The analysis reveals that updrafts appear in the storms regardless of whether snowbands are present or whether there is larger-scale forcing for ascent. The more turbulent and stronger updrafts frequently occur in midlevels of storms associated with instability from vertical shear and contribute to upward mass flux during snowband periods when they are closer together in space and time.

Open access
Amanda Richter
and
Timothy J. Lang

Abstract

NASA’s Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms (IMPACTS) field campaign gathered data using “satellite-simulating” (albeit with higher-resolution data than satellites currently provide) and in situ aircraft to study snowstorms, with an emphasis on banding. This study used three IMPACTS microwave instruments—two passive and one active—chosen for their sensitivity to precipitation microphysics. The 10–37-GHz passive frequencies were well suited for detecting light precipitation and differentiating rain intensities over water. The 85–183-GHz frequencies were more sensitive to cloud ice, with higher cloud tops manifesting as lower brightness temperatures, but this did not necessarily correspond well to near-surface precipitation. Over land, retrieving precipitation information from radiometer data is more difficult, requiring increased reliance on radar to assess storm structure. A dual-frequency ratio (DFR) derived from the radar’s Ku- and Ka-band frequencies provided greater insight into storm microphysics than reflectivity alone. Areas likely to contain mixed-phase precipitation (often the melting layer/bright band) generally had the highest DFR, and high-altitude regions likely to contain ice usually had the lowest DFR. The DFR of rain columns increased toward the ground, and snowbands appeared as high-DFR anomalies.

Significance Statement

Winter precipitation was studied using three airborne microwave sensors. Two were passive radiometers covering a broad range of frequencies, while the other was a two-frequency radar. The radiometers did a good job of characterizing the horizontal structure of winter storms when they were over water, but struggled to provide detailed information about winter storms when they were over land. The radar was able to provide vertically resolved details of storm structure over land or water, but only provided information at nadir, so horizontal structure was less well described. The combined use of all three instruments compensated for individual deficiencies, and was very effective at characterizing overall winter storm structure.

Open access
Brian A. Colle
,
Phillip Yeh
,
Joseph A. Finlon
,
Lynn McMurdie
,
Victoria McDonald
, and
Andrew DeLaFrance

Abstract

On 7 February 2020 a relatively deep cyclone (∼980 hPa) with midlevel frontogenesis produced heavy snow (20–30 mm liquid equivalent) over western and central New York State. Despite these characteristics, the precipitation was not organized into a narrow band of intensive snowfall. This event occurred during the Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms (IMPACTS) field campaign. Using coordinated flight legs across New York State, a remote sensing aircraft (ER-2) sampled above the cloud, while a P-3 aircraft collected in-cloud data. These data are used to validate several Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model simulations at 2- and 0.67-km grid spacing using different initial and boundary conditions (RAP, GFS, and ERA5 analyses) and microphysics schemes (Thompson and P3). The differences between the WRF runs are used to explore sensitivity to initial conditions and microphysics schemes. All 18–24-h runs realistically produced a broad sloping region of frontogenesis at midlevels typically; however, there were relatively large (20%–30%) uncertainties in the magnitude of this forcing using different analyses and initialization times. The differences in surface precipitation distribution are small (<10%) among the microphysics schemes, likely because there was little riming in the region of heaviest precipitation. Those runs with frontogenesis closest to the RAP analysis and a surface precipitation underprediction of 20%–30% have too little ice aloft and at low levels, suggesting deficiencies in ice generation and snow growth aloft in those runs. The 0.67-km grid produced more realistic convective cells aloft, but only 5%–10% more precipitation than the 2-km grid.

Significance Statement

Heavy snowfall from U.S. East Coast winter storms can cause major societal problems, yet few studies have investigated these storms using field observations and model data. This study focuses on the 7 February 2020 event, where 20–40 cm of snow fell over west-central New York. Our analysis shows a broad region of ascent, rather than a concentrated region favoring a well-defined snowband was the primary process contributing to snowfall. Last, model microphysics were validated within this storm using the in situ aircraft data. Errors in the snow generation aloft and snow growth at low levels likely contributed to the simulated surface precipitation underprediction, but most of the forecast uncertainty is from initial conditions for this short-term (∼24-h lead time) forecast.

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