The column moist static energy (MSE) budget equation approximates the processes associated with column moistening and drying in the tropics, and is therefore predictive of precipitation amplification and decay. We use ERA-I and TRMM 3B42 data to investigate day-to-day convective variability and distinguish the roles of horizontal MSE (or moisture) advection versus vertical advection, sources, and sinks. Over tropical convergence zones, results suggest that horizontal moisture advection is a primary driver of day-to-day precipitation fluctuations; when drying via horizontal moisture advection is smaller (greater) than Chikira’s “column process,” precipitation tends to amplify (decay). In the absence of horizontal moisture advection, precipitation tends to increase spontaneously almost universally through a positive column process feedback. This bulk positive feedback is characterized by negative effective gross moist stability (GMS), which is maintained throughout the tropical convergence zones. How this positive feedback is achieved varies geographically, depending on the shape of vertical velocity (omega) profiles. In regions where omega profiles are top-heavy, the effective GMS is negative primarily owing to strong feedbacks between convection and diabatic MSE sources (radiative and surface fluxes). In these regions, vertical MSE advection stabilizes the atmosphere (positive vertical GMS). Where omega profiles are bottom-heavy, by contrast, a positive feedback is primarily driven by import of MSE through a shallow circulation (negative vertical GMS). The diabatic feedback and vertical GMS are in a see-saw balance, offsetting one another. Our results suggest that ubiquitous convective variability is amplified by the same mechanism as moisture-mode instability.

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