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Juerg Schmidli, Gregory S. Poulos, Megan H. Daniels, and Fotini K. Chow

Abstract

The dynamics that govern the evolution of nighttime flows in a deep valley, California’s Owens Valley, are analyzed. Measurements from the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) reveal a pronounced valley-wind system with often nonclassical flow evolution. Two cases with a weak high pressure ridge over the study area but very different valley flow evolution are presented. The first event is characterized by the appearance of a layer of southerly flow after midnight local time, sandwiched between a thermally driven low-level downvalley (northerly) flow and a synoptic northwesterly flow aloft. The second event is characterized by an unusually strong and deep downvalley jet, exceeding 15 m s−1. The analysis is based on the T-REX measurement data and the output of high-resolution large-eddy simulations using the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS). Using horizontal grid spacings of 1 km and 350 m, ARPS reproduces the observed flow features for these two cases very well. It is found that the low-level along-valley forcing of the valley wind is the result of a superposition of the local thermal forcing and a midlevel (2–2.5 km MSL) along-valley pressure forcing. The analysis shows that the large difference in valley flow evolution derives primarily from differences in the midlevel pressure forcing, and that the Owens Valley is particularly susceptible to these midlevel external influences because of its specific geometry. The results demonstrate the delicate interplay of forces that can combine to determine the valley flow structure on any given night.

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Qingfang Jiang and James D. Doyle

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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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Thomas Raab and Georg Mayr

Abstract

This article reports results from the Sierra Rotors Project, which took place in the central part of Owens Valley, California, east of the Sierra Nevada in March and April 2004. The aim of the study is to describe the footprints of cross-mountain and downslope airflow by mobile surface measurements and radiosoundings. An instrumented car measured wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity. Four case studies cover the spectrum of forcings behind the foehn-like downslope windstorms. Hydraulic theory as a conceptual model was used to explain the data from the car in combination with radiosoundings. All four cases had a colder air mass on the upstream side, thus creating a hydrostatic pressure forcing. With weak flow parallel to the sierra, no downslope windstorm developed and a valley-slope circulation was documented, which for the first time related continuous pressure measurements to the thermal wind system. A second case with a stronger wind component perpendicular to the sierra caused the flow to plunge to the Owens Valley floor. Signatures indicating supercritical regions with accelerated flow reverting to a subcritical state in a hydraulic jump were found. In the third case, the flow separated from the lee slope and subsequently reattached. In the last case, a downslope windstorm developed ahead of a cold front. The downslope windstorm and cold front coexisted in the valley for several hours, with the latter being confined to its eastern side and the storm riding up over it.

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THE TERRAIN-INDUCED ROTOR EXPERIMENT

A Field Campaign Overview Including Observational Highlights

Vanda Grubišić, James D. Doyle, Joachim Kuettner, Stephen Mobbs, Ronald B. Smith, C. David Whiteman, Richard Dirks, Stanley Czyzyk, Stephen A. Cohn, Simon Vosper, Martin Weissmann, Samuel Haimov, Stephan F. J. De Wekker, Laura L. Pan, and Fotini Katopodes Chow

The Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) is a coordinated international project, composed of an observational field campaign and a research program, focused on the investigation of atmospheric rotors and closely related phenomena in complex terrain. The T-REX field campaign took place during March and April 2006 in the lee of the southern Sierra Nevada in eastern California. Atmospheric rotors have been traditionally defined as quasi-two-dimensional atmospheric vortices that form parallel to and downwind of a mountain ridge under conditions conducive to the generation of large-amplitude mountain waves. Intermittency, high levels of turbulence, and complex small-scale internal structure characterize rotors, which are known hazards to general aviation. The objective of the T-REX field campaign was to provide an unprecedented comprehensive set of in situ and remotely sensed meteorological observations from the ground to UTLS altitudes for the documentation of the spatiotemporal characteristics and internal structure of a tightly coupled system consisting of an atmospheric rotor, terrain-induced internal gravity waves, and a complex terrain boundary layer. In addition, T-REX had several ancillary objectives including the studies of UTLS chemical distribution in the presence of mountain waves and complex-terrain boundary layer in the absence of waves and rotors. This overview provides a background of the project including the information on its science objectives, experimental design, and observational systems, along with highlights of key observations obtained during the field campaign.

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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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Ronald B. Smith, Bryan K. Woods, Jorgen Jensen, William A. Cooper, James D. Doyle, Qingfang Jiang, and Vanda Grubišić

Abstract

Using the National Science Foundation (NSF)–NCAR Gulfstream V and the NSF–Wyoming King Air research aircraft during the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) in March–April 2006, six cases of Sierra Nevada mountain waves were surveyed with 126 cross-mountain legs. The goal was to identify the influence of the tropopause on waves entering the stratosphere. During each flight leg, part of the variation in observed parameters was due to parameter layering, heaving up and down in the waves. Diagnosis of the combined wave-layering signal was aided with innovative use of new GPS altitude measurements. The ozone and water vapor layering correlated with layered Bernoulli function and cross-flow speed.

GPS-corrected static pressure was used to compute the vertical energy flux, confirming, for the first time, the Eliassen–Palm relation between momentum and energy flux (EF = −U · MF). Kinetic (KE) and potential (PE) wave energy densities were also computed. The equipartition ratio (EQR = PE/KE) changed abruptly across the tropopause, indicating partial wave reflection. In one case (16 April 2006) systematically reversed momentum and energy fluxes were found in the stratosphere above 12 km. On a “wave property diagram,” three families of waves were identified: up- and downgoing long waves (30 km) and shorter (14 km) trapped waves. For the latter two types, an explanation is proposed related to secondary generation near the tropopause and reflection or secondary generation in the lower stratosphere.

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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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Vanda Grubišić and Brian J. Billings

Abstract

A large-amplitude lee-wave rotor event observationally documented during Sierra Rotors Project Intensive Observing Period (IOP) 8 on 24–26 March 2004 in the lee of the southern Sierra Nevada is examined. Mountain waves and rotors occurred over Owens Valley in a pre-cold-frontal environment. In this study, the evolution and structure of the observed and numerically simulated mountain waves and rotors during the event on 25 March, in which the horizontal circulation associated with the rotor was observed as an opposing, easterly flow by the mesonetwork of surface stations in Owens Valley, are analyzed.

The high-resolution numerical simulations of this case, performed with the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) run with multiple nested-grid domains, the finest grid having 333-m horizontal spacing, reproduced many of the observed features of this event. These include small-amplitude waves above the Sierra ridge decoupled from thermally forced flow within the valley, and a large-amplitude mountain wave, turbulent rotor, and strong westerlies on the Sierra Nevada lee slopes during the period of the observed surface easterly flow. The sequence of the observed and simulated events shows a pronounced diurnal variation with the maximum wave and rotor activity occurring in the early evening hours during both days of IOP 8.

The lee-wave response, and thus indirectly the appearance of lee-wave rotor during the core IOP 8 period, is found to be strongly controlled by temporal changes in the upstream ambient wind and stability profiles. The downstream mountain range exerts strong control over the lee-wave horizontal wavelength during the strongest part of this event, thus exhibiting the control over the cross-valley position of the rotor and the degree of strong downslope wind penetration into the valley.

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James D. Doyle and Dale R. Durran

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The internal structure and dynamics of rotors that form in the lee of topographic ridges are explored using a series of high-resolution eddy-resolving numerical simulations. Surface friction generates a sheet of horizontal vorticity along the lee slope that is lifted aloft by the mountain lee wave at the boundary layer separation point. Parallel-shear instability breaks this vortex sheet into small intense vortices or subrotors.

The strength and evolution of the subrotors and the internal structure of the main large-scale rotor are substantially different in 2D and 3D simulations. In 2D, the subrotors are less intense and are ultimately entrained into the larger-scale rotor circulation, where they dissipate and contribute their vorticity toward the maintenance of the main rotor. In 3D, even for flow over a uniform infinitely long barrier, the subrotors are more intense, and primarily are simply swept downstream past the main rotor along the interface between that rotor and the surrounding lee wave. The average vorticity within the interior of the main rotor is much weaker and the flow is more chaotic.

When an isolated peak is added to a 3D ridge, systematic along-ridge velocity perturbations create regions of preferential vortex stretching at the leading edge of the rotor. Subrotors passing through such regions are intensified by stretching and may develop values of the ridge-parallel vorticity component well in excess of those in the parent, shear-generated vortex sheet. Because of their intensity, such subrotor circulations likely pose the greatest hazard to aviation.

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Gregory S. Poulos, Junhong Wang, Dean K. Lauritsen, and Harold L. Cole

Abstract

The dropwindsonde (or dropsonde) is a frequently utilized tool in geophysical research and its use over ocean and flat terrain is a reliable and well-established practice. Its use in complex terrain, however, is complicated by signal acquisition challenges that can be directly related to the ground target location, local relief, and line of sight to flight tracks relevant to the observation sought. This note describes a straightforward technique to calculate the theoretical altitude above ground to which a ground-targeted dropsonde will provide data for a given airborne platform. It is found that this height H Cq can be calculated from expected airborne platform horizontal velocity U ag, mean dropwindsonde vertical velocity Ws, the relevant barrier maximum HB, and the horizontal distance from the target area to the barrier maximum DB. Here, H Cq is found to be weakly dependent on release altitude through Ws. An example from the Terrain-induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) is used to show that for modern aircraft platforms and dropwindsondes signal loss can occur 1–2 km above ground if mitigation is not pursued. Practical mitigation techniques are described for those complex terrain cases where signal propagation problems would create a significant negative scientific impact.

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