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Christian Kühnlein, Andreas Dörnbrack, and Martin Weissmann

Abstract

The authors present observations of the temporal evolution of downslope windstorms with rotors and internal hydraulic jumps of unprecedented detail and spatiotemporal coverage. The observations were carried out by means of a coherent Doppler lidar in the lee of the southern Sierra Nevada range during the sixth intensive observational period of the Terrain-induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) in 2006. Two representative flow regimes are analyzed and juxtaposed in this paper. The first case shows pulses of high-momentum air that propagate eastward through the valley with an internal hydraulic jump on the leading edge. The region downstream of the transient internal hydraulic jump is characterized by turbulence but no coherent rotor circulation was observed. During the second case, the strongest windstorm of the field campaign T-REX occurred. The observed features of this event resemble the classical notion of a rotor. Altogether, the Doppler lidar observations of both downslope flow events reveal a complex, turbulent flow that is highly transient, intermittent, 3D, and interacts with a significant along-valley flow.

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James D. Doyle, Saša Gaberšek, Qingfang Jiang, Ligia Bernardet, John M. Brown, Andreas Dörnbrack, Elmar Filaus, Vanda Grubišić, Daniel J. Kirshbaum, Oswald Knoth, Steven Koch, Juerg Schmidli, Ivana Stiperski, Simon Vosper, and Shiyuan Zhong

Abstract

Numerical simulations of flow over steep terrain using 11 different nonhydrostatic numerical models are compared and analyzed. A basic benchmark and five other test cases are simulated in a two-dimensional framework using the same initial state, which is based on conditions during Intensive Observation Period (IOP) 6 of the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX), in which intense mountain-wave activity was observed. All of the models use an identical horizontal resolution of 1 km and the same vertical resolution. The six simulated test cases use various terrain heights: a 100-m bell-shaped hill, a 1000-m idealized ridge that is steeper on the lee slope, a 2500-m ridge with the same terrain shape, and a cross-Sierra terrain profile. The models are tested with both free-slip and no-slip lower boundary conditions.

The results indicate a surprisingly diverse spectrum of simulated mountain-wave characteristics including lee waves, hydraulic-like jump features, and gravity wave breaking. The vertical velocity standard deviation is twice as large in the free-slip experiments relative to the no-slip simulations. Nevertheless, the no-slip simulations also exhibit considerable variations in the wave characteristics. The results imply relatively low predictability of key characteristics of topographically forced flows such as the strength of downslope winds and stratospheric wave breaking. The vertical flux of horizontal momentum, which is a domain-integrated quantity, exhibits considerable spread among the models, particularly for the experiments with the 2500-m ridge and Sierra terrain. The differences among the various model simulations, all initialized with identical initial states, suggest that model dynamical cores may be an important component of diversity for the design of mesoscale ensemble systems for topographically forced flows. The intermodel differences are significantly larger than sensitivity experiments within a single modeling system.

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Juerg Schmidli, Brian Billings, Fotini K. Chow, Stephan F. J. de Wekker, James Doyle, Vanda Grubišić, Teddy Holt, Qiangfang Jiang, Katherine A. Lundquist, Peter Sheridan, Simon Vosper, C. David Whiteman, Andrzej A. Wyszogrodzki, and Günther Zängl

Abstract

Three-dimensional simulations of the daytime thermally induced valley wind system for an idealized valley–plain configuration, obtained from nine nonhydrostatic mesoscale models, are compared with special emphasis on the evolution of the along-valley wind. The models use the same initial and lateral boundary conditions, and standard parameterizations for turbulence, radiation, and land surface processes. The evolution of the mean along-valley wind (averaged over the valley cross section) is similar for all models, except for a time shift between individual models of up to 2 h and slight differences in the speed of the evolution. The analysis suggests that these differences are primarily due to differences in the simulated surface energy balance such as the dependence of the sensible heat flux on surface wind speed. Additional sensitivity experiments indicate that the evolution of the mean along-valley flow is largely independent of the choice of the dynamical core and of the turbulence parameterization scheme. The latter does, however, have a significant influence on the vertical structure of the boundary layer and of the along-valley wind. Thus, this ideal case may be useful for testing and evaluation of mesoscale numerical models with respect to land surface–atmosphere interactions and turbulence parameterizations.

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James D. Doyle, Qingfang Jiang, Ronald B. Smith, and Vanda Grubišić

Abstract

Measurements from the National Science Foundation/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NSF/NCAR) Gulfstream V (G-V) obtained during the recent Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) indicate marked differences in the character of the wave response between repeated flight tracks across the Sierra Nevada, which were separated by a distance of approximately 50 km. Observations from several of the G-V research flights indicate that the vertical velocities in the primary wave exhibited variations up to a factor of 2 between the southern and northern portions of the racetrack flight segments in the lower stratosphere, with the largest amplitude waves most often occurring over the southern flight leg, which has a terrain maximum that is 800 m lower than the northern leg. Multiple racetracks at 11.7- and 13.1-km altitudes indicate that these differences were repeatable, which is suggestive that the deviations were likely due to vertically propagating mountain waves that varied systematically in amplitude rather than associated with transients. The cross-mountain horizontal velocity perturbations are also a maximum above the southern portion of the Sierra Nevada ridge.

Real data and idealized nonhydrostatic numerical model simulations are used to test the hypothesis that the observed variability in the wave amplitude and characteristics in the along-barrier direction is a consequence of blocking by the three-dimensional Sierra Nevada and the Coriolis effect. The numerical simulation results suggest that wave launching is sensitive to the overall three-dimensional characteristics of the Sierra Nevada barrier, which has an important impact on the wave amplitude and characteristics in the lower stratosphere. Real-time high-resolution Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) forecasts successfully capture the along-barrier variations in the wave amplitude (using vertical velocity as a proxy) as well as skillfully distinguishing between large- and small-amplitude stratospheric wave events during T-REX.

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Qingfang Jiang and James D. Doyle

Abstract

The impact of moist processes on mountain waves over Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is investigated in this study. Aircraft measurements over Owens Valley obtained during the Terrain-induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) indicate that mountain waves were generally weaker when the relative humidity maximum near the mountaintop level was above 70%. Four moist cases with a RH maximum near the mountaintop level greater than 90% have been further examined using a mesoscale model and a linear wave model. Two competing mechanisms governing the influence of moisture on mountain waves have been identified. The first mechanism involves low-level moisture that enhances flow–terrain interaction by reducing windward flow blocking. In the second mechanism, the moist airflow tends to damp mountain waves through destratifying the airflow and reducing the buoyancy frequency. The second mechanism dominates in the presence of a deep moist layer in the lower to middle troposphere, and the wave amplitude is significantly reduced associated with a smaller moist buoyancy frequency. With a shallow moist layer and strong low-level flow, the two mechanisms can become comparable in magnitude and largely offset each other.

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Yanping Li, Ronald B. Smith, and Vanda Grubišić

Abstract

Harmonic analysis has been applied to data from nearly 1000 Automatic Surface Observation System (ASOS) stations over the United States to extract diurnal pressure signals. The largest diurnal pressure amplitudes (∼200 Pa) and the earliest phases (∼0600 LST for surface pressure maximum) were found for stations located within deep mountain valleys in the western United States. The origin of these unique characteristics of valley pressure signals is examined with a detailed study of Owens Valley, California. Analysis of observational data from the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) project shows that the ratio of the valley surface pressure to temperature amplitude can be used to estimate the daily maximum mixed-layer depth H. On days with strong westerly winds above the valley, the mixed layer is found to be shallower than on quiescent days because of a flushing effect in the upper parts of the valley. Idealized two-dimensional Weather Research and Forecasting Model simulations were used to explain the pressure signal. In agreement with observations, the simulations show a 3-h difference between the occurrence of a surface pressure minimum (1800 LST) and a surface temperature maximum (1500 LST). The resolved energy budget analysis reveals that this time lag is caused by the persistence of subsidence warming in the upper part of the valley after the surface begins to cool. Sensitivity tests for different valley depths and seasons show that the relative height of the mixed-layer depth with respect to the valley depth, along with the valley width-to-depth ratio, determine whether the diurnal valley circulation is a “confined” system or an “open” system. The open system has a smaller pressure amplitude and an earlier pressure phase.

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Patrick A. Reinecke and Dale Durran

Abstract

The tendency of high-resolution numerical weather prediction (NWP) models to overpredict the strength of vertically propagating mountain waves is explored. Discrete analytic mountain-wave solutions are presented for the classical problem of cross-mountain flow in an atmosphere with constant wind speed and stability. Time-dependent linear numerical solutions are also obtained for more realistic atmospheric structures. On one hand, using second-order-accurate finite differences on an Arakawa C grid to model nonhydrostatic flow over what might be supposed to be an adequately resolved 8Δx-wide mountain can lead to an overamplification of the standing mountain wave by 30%–40%. On the other hand, the same finite-difference scheme underestimates the wave amplitude in hydrostatic flow over an 8Δx-wide mountain. Increasing the accuracy of the advection scheme to the fourth order significantly reduces the numerical errors associated with both the hydrostatic and nonhydrostatic discrete solutions. The Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) model is used to generate two 70-member ensemble simulations of a mountain-wave event during the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment. It is shown that switching from second-order advection to fourth-order advection leads to as much as a 20 m s−1 decrease in vertical velocity on the lee side of the Sierra Nevada, and that the weaker fourth-order solutions are more consistent with observations.

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Qingfang Jiang and James D. Doyle

Abstract

The impact of diurnal forcing on a downslope wind event that occurred in Owens Valley in California during the Sierra Rotors Project (SRP) in the spring of 2004 has been examined based on observational analysis and diagnosis of numerical simulations. The observations indicate that while the upstream flow was characterized by persistent westerlies at and above the mountaintop level the cross-valley winds in Owens Valley exhibited strong diurnal variation. The numerical simulations using the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) capture many of the observed salient features and indicate that the in-valley flow evolved among three states during a diurnal cycle. Before sunrise, moderate downslope winds were confined to the western slope of Owens Valley (shallow penetration state). Surface heating after sunrise weakened the downslope winds and mountain waves and eventually led to the decoupling of the well-mixed valley air from the westerlies aloft around local noon (decoupled state). The westerlies plunged into the valley in the afternoon and propagated across the valley floor (in-valley westerly state). After sunset, the westerlies within the valley retreated toward the western slope, where the downslope winds persisted throughout the night.

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Shiyuan Zhong, Ju Li, C. David Whiteman, Xindi Bian, and Wenqing Yao

Abstract

The climatology of high wind events in the Owens Valley, California, a deep valley located just east of the southern Sierra Nevada, is described using data from six automated weather stations distributed along the valley axis in combination with the North American Regional Reanalysis dataset. Potential mechanisms for the development of strong winds in the valley are examined.

Contrary to the common belief that strong winds in the Owens Valley are westerly downslope windstorms that develop on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, strong westerly winds are rare in the valley. Instead, strong winds are highly bidirectional, blowing either up (northward) or down (southward) the valley axis. High wind events are most frequent in spring and early fall and they occur more often during daytime than during nighttime, with a peak frequency in the afternoon. Unlike thermally driven valley winds that blow up valley during daytime and down valley during nighttime, strong winds may blow in either direction regardless of the time of the day. The southerly up-valley winds appear most often in the afternoon, a time when there is a weak minimum of northerly down-valley winds, indicating that strong wind events are modulated by local along-valley thermal forcing.

Several mechanisms, including downward momentum transfer, forced channeling, and pressure-driven channeling all play a role in the development of southerly high wind events. These events are typically accompanied by strong south-southwesterly synoptic winds ahead of an upper-level trough off the California coast. The northerly high wind events, which typically occur when winds aloft are from the northwest ahead of an approaching upper-level ridge, are predominantly caused by the passage of a cold front when fast-moving cold air behind the surface front undercuts and displaces the warmer air in the valley. Forced channeling by the sidewalls of the relatively narrow valley aligns the wind direction with the valley axis and enhances the wind speeds.

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Vanda Grubišić and Brian J. Billings

Abstract

This note presents a satellite-based climatology of the Sierra Nevada mountain-wave events. The data presented were obtained by detailed visual inspection of visible satellite imagery to detect mountain lee-wave clouds based on their location, shape, and texture. Consequently, this climatology includes only mountain-wave events during which sufficient moisture was present in the incoming airstream and whose amplitude was large enough to lead to cloud formation atop mountain-wave crests. The climatology is based on data from two mountain-wave seasons in the 1999–2001 period. Mountain-wave events are classified in two types according to cloud type as lee-wave trains and single wave clouds. The frequency of occurrence of these two wave types is examined as a function of the month of occurrence (October–May) and region of formation (north, middle, south, or the entire Sierra Nevada range). Results indicate that the maximum number of mountain-wave events in the lee of the Sierra Nevada occurs in the month of April. For several months, including January and May, frequency of wave events displays substantial interannual variability. Overall, trapped lee waves appear to be more common, in particular in the lee of the northern sierra. A single wave cloud on the lee side of the mountain range was found to be a more common wave form in the southern Sierra Nevada. The average wavelength of the Sierra Nevada lee waves was found to lie between 10 and 15 km, with a minimum at 4 km and a maximum at 32 km.

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