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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