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Marius Levin Thomas
and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Banner clouds are clouds in the lee of steep mountains or sharp ridges on otherwise cloud-free days. Previous studies investigated various aspects of banner cloud formation in numerical simulations, most of which were based on idealized orography and a neutrally stratified ambient atmosphere. The present study extends these simulations in two important directions by 1) examining the impact of various types of orography ranging from an idealized pyramid to the realistic orography of Mount Matterhorn and 2) accounting for an ambient atmosphere that turns from neutral to stably stratified below the mountain summit. Not surprisingly, realistic orography introduces asymmetries in the spanwise direction. At the same time, banner cloud occurrence remains associated with a coherent area of strong uplift, although this region does not have to be located exclusively in the lee of the mountain any longer. In the case of Mount Matterhorn with a westerly ambient flow, a large fraction of air parcels rises along the southern face of the mountain, before they reach the lee and are lifted into the banner cloud. The presence of a shallow boundary layer with its top below the mountain summit introduces more complex behavior compared to a neutrally stratified boundary layer; in particular, it introduces a dependence on wind speed, because strong wind is associated with strong turbulence that is able to raise the boundary layer height and, thus, facilitates the formation of a banner cloud.

Open access
Paolo Ghinassi
,
Georgios Fragkoulidis
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets (RWPs) are important dynamical features, because they are often associated with weather systems and sometimes act as precursors to high-impact weather. The present work introduces a novel diagnostic to identify RWPs and to quantify their amplitude. It is based on the local finite-amplitude wave activity (LWA) of Huang and Nakamura, which is generalized to the primitive equations in isentropic coordinates. The new diagnostic is applied to a specific episode containing large-amplitude RWPs and compared with a more traditional diagnostic based on the envelope of the meridional wind. In this case, LWA provides a more coherent picture of the RWPs and their zonal propagation. This difference in performance is demonstrated more explicitly in the framework of an idealized barotropic model simulation, where LWA is able to follow an RWP into its fully nonlinear stage, including cutoff formation and wave breaking, while the envelope diagnostic yields reduced amplitudes in such situations.

Open access
Gabriel Wolf
and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

It has been suggested that upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets propagating along the midlatitude waveguide may play a role for triggering severe weather. This motivates the search for robust methods to detect and track Rossby wave packets and to diagnose their properties. In the framework of several observed cases, this paper compares different methods that have been proposed for these tasks, with an emphasis on horizontal propagation and on a particular formulation of a wave activity flux previously suggested by Takaya and Nakamura. The utility of this flux is compromised by the semigeostrophic nature of upper-tropospheric Rossby waves, but this problem can partly be overcome by a semigeostrophic coordinate transformation. The wave activity flux allows one to obtain information from a single snapshot about the meridional propagation, in particular propagation from or into polar and subtropical latitudes, as well as about the onset of wave breaking. This helps to clarify the dynamics of individual wave packets in cases where other, more conventional methods provide ambiguous or even misleading information. In some cases, the “true dynamics” of the Rossby wave packet turns out to be more complex than apparent from the more conventional diagnostics, and this may have important implications for the predictability of the wave packet.

Full access
Paolo Ghinassi
,
Marlene Baumgart
,
Franziska Teubler
,
Michael Riemer
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Recently, the authors proposed a novel diagnostic to quantify the amplitude of Rossby wave packets. This diagnostic extends the local finite-amplitude wave activity (LWA) of N. Nakamura and collaborators to the primitive-equations framework and combines it with a zonal filter to remove the phase dependence. In the present work, this diagnostic is used to investigate the dynamics of upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packets, with a particular focus on distinguishing between conservative dynamics and nonconservative processes. For this purpose, a budget equation for filtered LWA is derived and its utility is tested in a hierarchy of models. Idealized simulations with a barotropic and a dry primitive-equation model confirm the ability of the LWA diagnostic to identify nonconservative local sources or sinks of wave activity. In addition, the LWA budget is applied to forecast data for an episode in which the amplitude of an upper-tropospheric Rossby wave packet was poorly represented. The analysis attributes deficiencies in the Rossby wave packet amplitude to the misrepresentation of diabatic processes and illuminates the importance of the upper-level divergent outflow as a source for the error in the wave packet amplitude.

Open access
Rachel H. White
,
Kai Kornhuber
,
Olivia Martius
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

A notable number of high-impact weather extremes have occurred in recent years, often associated with persistent, strongly meandering atmospheric circulation patterns known as Rossby waves. Because of the high societal and ecosystem impacts, it is of great interest to be able to accurately project how such extreme events will change with climate change, and to predict these events on seasonal-to-subseasonal (S2S) time scales. There are multiple physical links connecting upper-atmosphere circulation patterns to surface weather extremes, and it is asking a lot of our dynamical models to accurately simulate all of these. Subsequently, our confidence in future projections and S2S forecasts of extreme events connected to Rossby waves remains relatively low. We also lack full fundamental theories for the growth and propagation of Rossby waves on the spatial and temporal scales relevant to extreme events, particularly under strongly nonlinear conditions. By focusing on one of the first links in the chain from upper-atmospheric conditions to surface extremes—the Rossby waveguide—it may be possible to circumvent some model biases in later links. To further our understanding of the nature of waveguides, links to persistent surface weather events and their representation in models, we recommend exploring these links in model hierarchies of increasing complexity, developing fundamental theory, exploiting novel large ensemble datasets, harnessing deep learning, and increased community collaboration. This would help increase understanding and confidence in both S2S predictions of extremes and of projections of the impact of climate change on extreme weather events.

Full access
Volkmar Wirth
,
Michael Riemer
,
Edmund K. M. Chang
, and
Olivia Martius

Abstract

Rossby wave packets (RWPs) are Rossby waves for which the amplitude has a local maximum and decays to smaller values at larger distances. This review focuses on upper-tropospheric transient RWPs along the midlatitude jet stream. Their central characteristic is the propagation in the zonal direction as well as the transfer of wave energy from one individual trough or ridge to its downstream neighbor, a process called “downstream development.” These RWPs sometimes act as long-range precursors to extreme weather and presumably have an influence on the predictability of midlatitude weather systems. The paper reviews research progress in this area with an emphasis on developments during the last 15 years. The current state of knowledge is summarized including a discussion of the RWP life cycle as well as Rossby waveguides. Recent progress in the dynamical understanding of RWPs has been based, in part, on the development of diagnostic methods. These methods include algorithms to identify and track RWPs in an automated manner, which can be used to extract the climatological properties of RWPs. RWP dynamics have traditionally been investigated using the eddy kinetic energy framework; alternative approaches based on potential vorticity and wave activity fluxes are discussed and put into perspective with the more traditional approach. The different diagnostics are compared to each other and the strengths and weaknesses of individual methods are highlighted. A recurrent theme is the role of diabatic processes, which can be a source for forecast errors. Finally, the paper points to important open research questions and suggests avenues for future research.

Open access
Joseph Egger
,
Sapta Bajrachaya
,
Ute Egger
,
Richard Heinrich
,
Joachim Reuder
,
Pancha Shayka
,
Hilbert Wendt
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

The diurnal wind system of the Kali Gandaki Valley in Nepal was explored in September and October 1998 in a field campaign using pilot balloons as the main observational tool. This valley connects the Plateau of Tibet with the Indian plains. The river crosses the Himalayas forming the deepest valley on Earth. Intense upvalley winds blow up this valley during the day. Observations were made along the river at various spots selected between the exit point from the Himalayas and the source close to the Plateau of Tibet. The strongest upvalley winds were found between Marpha and Chuksang with typical speeds of 15–20 m s−1. The upvalley wind sets in first at the ground but an upvalley wind layer of 1000–2000-m depth forms quickly after the onset. This deep inflow layer persists up to Lo Manthang, a town located a few kilometers south of the Plateau of Tibet. Deceleration in the late afternoon and evening also appears to commence near the ground. Weak drainage flow forms late in the night. The causes of these phenomena are discussed.

Full access
Angela M. Rendón
,
Juan F. Salazar
,
Carlos A. Palacio
, and
Volkmar Wirth

Abstract

Urban valleys can experience serious air pollution problems as a combined result of their limited ventilation and the high emission of pollutants from the urban areas. Idealized simulations were analyzed to elucidate the breakup of an inversion layer in urban valleys subject to a strong low-level temperature inversion and topographic effects on surface heating such as topographic shading, as well as the associated air pollution transport mechanisms. The results indicate that the presence and evolution in time of the inversion layer and its interplay with an urban heat island within the valley strongly influence the venting of pollutants out of urban valleys. Three mechanisms of air pollution transport were identified. These are transport by upslope winds, transport by an urban heat island–induced circulation, and transport within a closed slope-flow circulation below an inversion layer.

Full access
Angela M. Rendón
,
Juan F. Salazar
,
Carlos A. Palacio
,
Volkmar Wirth
, and
Björn Brötz

Abstract

Many cities located in valleys with limited ventilation experience serious air pollution problems. The ventilation of an urban valley can be limited not only by orographic barriers, but also by urban heat island–induced circulations and/or the capping effect of temperature inversions. Furthermore, land-use/-cover changes caused by urbanization alter the dynamics of temperature inversions and urban heat islands, thereby affecting air quality in an urban valley. By means of idealized numerical simulations, it is shown that in a mountain valley subject to temperature inversions urbanization can have an important influence on air quality through effects on the inversion breakup. Depending on the urban area fraction in the simulations, the breakup time changes, the cross-valley wind system can evolve from a confined to an open system during the daytime, the slope winds can be reversed by the interplay between the urban heat island and the temperature inversion, and the breakup pattern can migrate from one dominated by the growth of the convective boundary layer to one also involving the removal of mass from the valley floor by the upslope winds. The analysis suggests that the influence of urbanization on the air quality of an urban valley may lead to contrasting and possibly counterintuitive effects when considering temperature inversions. More urban land does not necessarily imply worse air quality, even when considering that the amount of pollutants emitted grows with increased urbanization.

Full access
Volkmar Wirth
,
Pascal Bubel
,
Joachim Eichhorn
,
Elmar Schömer
,
Tobias Kremer
,
Rainer Erbes
,
Sebastian Schappert
, and
Isabelle Prestel

Abstract

Banner clouds are clouds that appear to be attached to the leeward face of a steep mountain. This paper investigates the role of wind speed and wind shear for the formation of banner clouds. Large-eddy simulations are performed to simulate the flow of dry air past an idealized pyramid-shaped mountain. The potential for cloud formation is diagnosed through the Lagrangian vertical parcel displacement, which in the case of a banner cloud shows a plume of large values in the lee of the mountain. In addition, vortical structures are visualized through streamlines and their curvature. A series of sensitivity experiments indicates that both the flow and the banner cloud occurrence are largely independent of the ambient wind speed U. On the other hand, the shear of the ambient wind has a profound impact on the location of the stagnation point on the windward face as well as on the flow geometry in the lee of the mountain. The relevant measure for shear is H/H s , where H denotes the height of the mountain and H s = U/U z is the scale height of the shear (with U z denoting the scale of the shear). The simulations are also used to compute the line-of-sight velocity component seen by a hypothetical Doppler wind lidar positioned in the lee of the mountain; the analysis suggests that such sensitivities can potentially be detected using modern wind lidar technology.

Free access