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J. Marshall Shepherd
and
Steven J. Burian

Abstract

There is increasing evidence that large coastal cities, like Houston, Texas, can influence weather through complex urban land use–weather–climate feedbacks. Recent work in the literature establishes the existence of enhanced lightning activity over and downwind of Houston. Since lightning is a signature of convection in the atmosphere, it would seem reasonable that urbanized Houston would also impact the distribution of rainfall. This paper presents results using data from the world’s first satellite-based precipitation radar (PR) aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and ground-based rain gauges to quantify rainfall anomalies that we hypothesize to be linked to extensive urbanization in the Houston area. It is one of the first rigorous efforts to quantify an urban-induced rainfall anomaly near a major U.S. coastal city and one of the first applications of space-borne radar data to the problem. Quantitative results reveal the presence of annual and warm season rainfall anomalies over and downwind of Houston. Several hypotheses have surfaced to explain how the sea breeze, coastline curvature, or urbanized Houston environment interacts with the atmospheric system to impact rainfall. This paper presents evidence that the urban heat island’s influence is of primary significance in causing the observed precipitation anomalies. Precipitation is a key link in the global water cycle and a proper understanding of its temporal and spatial character will have broad implications in ongoing climate diagnostics and prediction, Global Water and Energy Cycle (GWEC) analysis and modeling, weather forecasting, freshwater resource management, and land–atmosphere–ocean interface processes.

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Neil Debbage
and
J. Marshall Shepherd

Abstract

The 2009 Atlanta flood was a historic event that resulted in catastrophic damage throughout the metropolitan area. The flood was the product of several hydrometeorological processes, including moist antecedent conditions, ample atmospheric moisture, and mesoscale training. Additionally, previous studies hypothesized that the urban environment of Atlanta altered the location and/or overall quantities of precipitation and runoff that ultimately produced the flood. This hypothesis was quantitatively evaluated by conducting a modeling case study that utilized the Weather Research and Forecasting Model. Two model runs were performed: 1) an urban run designed to accurately depict the flood event and 2) a nonurban simulation where the urban footprint of Atlanta was replaced with natural vegetation. Comparing the output from the two simulations revealed that interactions with the urban environment enhanced the precipitation and runoff associated with the flood. Specifically, the nonurban model underestimated the cumulative precipitation by approximately 100 mm in the area downwind of Atlanta where urban rainfall enhancement was hypothesized. This notable difference was due to the increased surface convergence observed in the urban simulation, which was likely attributable to the enhanced surface roughness and thermal properties of the urban environment. The findings expand upon previous research focused on urban rainfall effects since they demonstrate that urban interactions can influence mesoscale hydrometeorological characteristics during events with prominent synoptic-scale forcing. Finally, from an urban planning perspective, the results highlight a potential two-pronged vulnerability of urban environments to extreme rainfall, as they may enhance both the initial precipitation and subsequent runoff.

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Lauren M. Hand
and
J. Marshall Shepherd

Abstract

This study used 9 yr (1998–2006) of warm-season (June–September) mean daily cumulative rainfall data from both the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis and rain gauge stations to examine spatial variability in warm-season rainfall events around Oklahoma City (OKC). It was hypothesized that with warm-season rainfall variability, under weakly forced conditions, a rainfall anomaly would be present in climatological downwind areas of OKC. Results from both satellite and gauge-based analyses revealed that the north-northeastern (NNE) regions of the metropolitan OKC area were statistically wetter than other regions. Climatological sounding and reanalysis data revealed that, on average, the NNE area of OKC was the climatologically downwind region, confirming that precipitation modification by the urban environment may be more dominant than agricultural/topographic influences on weakly forced days. The study also established that satellite precipitation estimates capture spatial rainfall variability as well as traditional ground-based resources do. TRMM products slightly underestimate the precipitation recorded by gauges, but the correlation R improves dramatically when the analysis is restricted to mean daily rainfall estimates from OKC urban grid cells containing multiple gauge stations (R 2 = 0.878). It was also quantitatively confirmed, using a relatively new concentration factor analysis, that prevailing wind–rainfall yields were consistent with the overall framework of an urban rainfall effect. Overall, the study establishes a prototype method for utilizing satellite-based rainfall estimates to examine rainfall modification by urbanization on global scales and in parts of the world that are not well instrumented with rain gauge or radar networks.

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J. Marshall Shepherd
,
Harold Pierce
, and
Andrew J. Negri

Abstract

Data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite's precipitation radar (PR) were employed to identify warm-season rainfall (1998–2000) patterns around Atlanta, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and San Antonio, Waco, and Dallas, Texas. Results reveal an average increase of about 28% in monthly rainfall rates within 30–60 km downwind of the metropolis, with a modest increase of 5.6% over the metropolis. Portions of the downwind area exhibit increases as high as 51%. The percentage changes are relative to an upwind control area. It was also found that maximum rainfall rates in the downwind impact area exceeded the mean value in the upwind control area by 48%–116%. The maximum value was generally found at an average distance of 39 km from the edge of the urban center or 64 km from the center of the city. Results are consistent with the Metropolitan Meteorological Experiment (METROMEX) studies of St. Louis, Missouri, almost two decades ago and with more recent studies near Atlanta. The study establishes the possibility of utilizing satellite-based rainfall estimates for examining rainfall modification by urban areas on global scales and over longer time periods. Such research has implications for weather forecasting, urban planning, water resource management, and understanding human impact on the environment and climate.

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J. Marshall Shepherd
,
Brad S. Ferrier
, and
Peter S. Ray

Abstract

Central Florida is the ideal test laboratory for studying convergence zone–induced convection. The region regularly experiences sea-breeze fronts and rainfall-induced outflow boundaries. The focus of this study is convection associated with the commonly occurring convergence zone established by the interaction of the sea-breeze front and an outflow boundary. Previous studies have investigated mechanisms primarily affecting storm initiation by such convergence zones. Few have focused on rainfall morphology, yet these storms contribute a significant amount of precipitation to the annual rainfall budget. Low-level convergence and midtropospheric moisture have been shown to be correlated with rainfall amounts in Florida. Using 2D and 3D numerical simulations, the roles of low-level convergence and midtropospheric moisture in rainfall evolution are examined.

The results indicate that area- and time-averaged, vertical moisture flux (VMF) at the sea-breeze front–outflow convergence zone is directly and linearly proportional to initial condensation rates. A similar relationship exists between VMF and initial rainfall. The VMF, which encompasses depth and magnitude of convergence, is better correlated to initial rainfall production than surface moisture convergence. This extends early observational studies that linked rainfall in Florida to surface moisture convergence. The amount and distribution of midtropospheric moisture affects how much rainfall associated with secondary cells develop. Rainfall amount and efficiency varied significantly over an observable range of relative humidities in the 850–500-mb layer even though rainfall evolution was similar during the initial or “first cell” period. Rainfall variability was attributed to drier midtropospheric environments inhibiting secondary cell development through entrainment effects. Observationally, a 850–500-mb moisture structure exhibits wider variability than lower-level moisture, which is virtually always present in Florida. A likely consequence of the variability in 850–500-mb moisture is a stronger statistical correlation to rainfall as noted in previous observational studies.

The VMF at convergence zones is critical in determining rainfall in the initial stage of development but plays a decreasing role in rainfall evolution as the system matures. The midtropospheric moisture (e.g., environment) plays an increasing role in rainfall evolution as the system matures. This suggests the need to improve measurements of depth and magnitude of convergence and midtropospheric moisture distribution. It also highlights that the influence of the environment needs to be better represented in convective parameterizations of larger-scale models to account for entrainment effects.

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Theresa K. Andersen
,
David E. Radcliffe
, and
J. Marshall Shepherd

Abstract

Tropical cyclones (TCs) typically weaken or transition to extratropical cyclones after making landfall. However, there are cases of TCs maintaining warm-core structures and intensifying inland unexpectedly, referred to as TC maintenance or intensification events (TCMIs). It has been proposed that wet soils create an atmosphere conducive to TC maintenance by enhancing surface latent heat flux (LHF). In this study, “HYDRUS-1D” is used to simulate the surface energy balance in intensification regions leading up to four different TCMIs. Specifically, the 2-week magnitudes and trends of soil temperature, sensible heat flux (SHF), and LHF are analyzed and compared across regions. While TCMIs are most common over northern Australia, theoretically linked to large fluxes from hot sands, the results revealed that SHF and LHF are equally large over the south-central United States. Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) 3-hourly LHF data were obtained for the same HYDRUS study regions as well as nearby ocean regions along the TC path 3 days prior (prestorm) to the TC appearance. Results indicate that the simulated prestorm mean LHF is similar in magnitude to that obtained from MERRA, with slightly lower values overall. The modeled 3-day mean fluxes over land are less than those found over the ocean; however, the maximum LHF over the 3-day period is greater over land (HYDRUS) than over the ocean (MERRA) for three of four cases. It is concluded that LHF inland can achieve similar magnitudes to that over the ocean during the daytime and should be pursued as a potential energy source for inland TCs.

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Joshua D. Durkee
,
Thomas L. Mote
, and
J. Marshall Shepherd

Abstract

This study uses a database consisting of 330 austral warm-season (October–May) mesoscale convective complexes (MCCs) during 1998–2007 to determine the contribution of MCCs to rainfall across subtropical South America (SSA). A unique precipitation analysis is conducted using Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) 3B42 version 6 data. The average MCC produces 15.7 mm of rainfall across 381 000 km2, with a volume of 7.0 km3. MCCs in SSA have the largest precipitation areas compared to North American and African systems. MCCs accounted for 15%–21% of the total rainfall across portions of northern Argentina and Paraguay during 1998–2007. However, MCCs account for larger fractions of the total precipitation when analyzed on monthly and warm-season time scales. Widespread MCC rainfall contributions of 11%–20% were observed in all months. MCCs accounted for 20%–30% of the total rainfall between November and February, and 30%–50% in December, primarily across northern Argentina and Paraguay. MCCs also produced 25%–66% of the total rainfall across portions of west-central Argentina. Similar MCC rainfall contributions were observed during warm seasons. An MCC impact factor (MIF) was developed to determine the overall impact of MCC rainfall on warm-season precipitation anomalies. Results show that the greatest impacts on precipitation anomalies from MCC rainfall were located near the center of the La Plata basin. This study demonstrates that MCCs in SSA produce widespread precipitation that contributes substantially to the total rainfall across the region.

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J. Marshall Shepherd
,
Olayiwola O. Taylor
, and
Carlos Garza

Abstract

Because Atlanta, Georgia, is a model of rapid transition from forest/agriculture land use to urbanization, NASA and other agencies have initiated programs to identify and understand how urban heat islands (UHIs) impact the environment in terms of land use, air quality, health, climate, and other factors. Atlanta's UHI may also impact the regional water cycle by inadvertent forcing of precipitating cloud systems. Yet, a focused assessment of the role of urban-induced rainfall in Atlanta has not been a primary focus of past efforts. Several observational and climatological studies have theorized that UHIs can have a significant influence on mesoscale circulations and resulting convection. Using spaceborne rain radar and a limited network of irregularly spaced, ground-based rain gauges, evidence that the Atlanta and Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, Texas, urban areas may modify cloud and precipitation development was recently found.

To validate these recent satellite-based findings, it was determined that a higher density of rainfall gauges would be required for future work. The NASA-sponsored Study of Precipitation Anomalies from Widespread Urban Landuse (SPRAWL) seeks to further address the impact of urban Atlanta on precipitation variability by implementing a dense rain gauge network to validate spaceborne rainfall estimates. To optimize gauge location to a given set of criteria, a geographical information system (GIS) aided by a spatial decision support system (DSS) has been developed. A multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) technique was developed to locate optimal sites in accordance to the guidelines defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). A multicriteria analysis model for the optimization of prospective sites was applied to identify prime locations for the tipping-bucket rain gauges. The MCDA design required development of a spatial model by applying a series of linear programming methods, with the aid of spatial analytical techniques, in order to identify land sites that meet a particular set of criteria.

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Amanda Schroeder
,
Jeffrey Basara
,
J. Marshall Shepherd
, and
Steven Nelson

Abstract

Flooding is routinely one of the most deadly weather-related hazards in the United States, which highlights the need for more hydrometeorological research related to forecasting these hazardous events. Building upon previous literature, a synergistic study analyzes hydrometeorological aspects of major urban flood events in the United States from 1977 through 2014 caused by locally heavy precipitation. Primary datasets include upper-air soundings and climatological precipitable water (PW) distributions. A major finding of this work is that major urban flood events are associated with extremely anomalous PW values, many of which exceeded the 99th percentile of the associated climatological dataset and all of which were greater than 150% of the climatological mean values. However, of the 40 cases examined in this study, only 15 had PW values that exceeded 50.4 mm (2 in.), illustrating the importance of including the location-specific PW climatology in a PW analysis relevant to the potential for flash floods. Additionally, these events revealed that, despite geographic location and time of year, most had a warm cloud depth of at least 6 km, which is defined here as the layer between the lifting condensation level and the height of the −10°C level. A “composite” flood sounding was also calculated and revealed a characteristically tropical structure, despite cases related to tropical cyclones being excluded from the study.

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Michael Carter
,
J. Marshall Shepherd
,
Steve Burian
, and
Indu Jeyachandran

Abstract

Urban–coastal circulations affect urban weather, dispersion and transport of pollutants and contaminants, and climate. Proper characterization and prediction of thermodynamic and dynamic processes in such environments are warranted. A new generation of observation and modeling systems is enabling unprecedented characterization of the three-dimensionality of the urban environment, including morphological parameters. Urban areas of Houston, Texas, are classified according to lidar-measured building heights and assigned typical urban land surface parameters appropriate to each classification. The lidar data were degraded from 1 m to the model resolution (1 km) with the goal of evaluating the impact of degraded resolution urban canopy parameters (UCPs) and three-dimensionality on the coastal–urban mesoscale circulations in comparison to typical two-dimensional urban slab approaches. The study revealed complex interactions between the sea breeze and urban heat island and offers a novel diagnostic tool, the bulk Richardson shear number, for identifying shallow mesoscale circulation.

Using the Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting model (ARW-WRF) coupled to an atmosphere–land surface–urban canopy model, the authors simulated a theoretical sea-breeze day and confirmed that while coastal morphology can itself lead to complex sea-breeze front structures, including preferred areas of vertical motion, the urban environment can have an impact on the evolution of the sea-breeze mesoscale boundary. The inclusion of lidar-derived UCPs, even at degraded resolution, in the model’s land surface representation can lead to significant differences in patterns of skin surface temperature, convergence, and vertical motion, which have implications for many aspects of urban weather.

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