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  • Author or Editor: Justin R. Minder x
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Justin R. Minder
and
David E. Kingsmill

Abstract

Observations from several mountain ranges reveal that the height of the transition from snowfall to rainfall, the snow line, can intersect the terrain at an elevation hundreds of meters below its elevation in the free air upwind. This mesoscale lowering of the snow line affects both the accumulation of mountain snowpack and the generation of storm runoff. A unique multiyear view of this behavior based on data from profiling radars in the northern Sierra Nevada deployed as part of NOAA’s Hydrometeorology Testbed is presented. Data from 3 yr of storms show that the mesoscale lowering of the snow line is a feature common to nearly all major storms, with an average snow line drop of 170 m.

The mesoscale behavior of the snow line is investigated in detail for a major storm over the northern Sierra Nevada. Comparisons of observations from sondes and profiling radars with high-resolution simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) show that WRF is capable of reproducing the observed lowering of the snow line in a realistic manner. Modeling results suggest that radar profiler networks may substantially underestimate the lowering by failing to resolve horizontal snow line variations in close proximity to the mountainside. Diagnosis of model output indicates that pseudoadiabatic processes related to orographic blocking, localized cooling due to melting of orographically enhanced snowfall, and spatial variations in hydrometeor melting distance all play important roles. Simulations are surprisingly insensitive to model horizontal resolution but have important sensitivities to microphysical parameterization.

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Theodore W. Letcher
and
Justin R. Minder

Abstract

The snow albedo feedback (SAF) is an important climate feature of mountain regions with transient snow cover. In these regions, where patterns of snow cover are largely determined by the underlying terrain, the SAF is highly variable in space and time. Under climate warming, these variations may affect the development of diurnal mountain winds either by altering the thermal contrast between high and low elevations or by increasing boundary layer mixing. In this study, high-resolution regional climate modeling experiments are used to investigate and characterize how the SAF modulates changes in diurnal wind systems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Utah during the spring when SAF strength is at a maximum. Two separate 7-yr pseudo–global warming climate change experiments with differing model configurations are examined. An evaluation of the control simulations against a mesoscale network of observations reveals that the models perform reasonably well at simulating diurnal mountain winds within this region. In the experiment with a strong SAF, there is a clear increase in the strength of daytime upslope flow under climate warming, which leads to increased convergence and cloudiness near the snow margin. Additionally, there is a decrease in the strength of nighttime downslope flows. In the simulation with a weaker SAF, the results are generally similar but less pronounced. In both experiments, an altered thermal contrast, rather than increased boundary layer mixing, appears to be the primary mechanism driving changes in diurnal mountain wind systems in this region.

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Theodore W. Letcher
and
Justin R. Minder

Abstract

The Front Range mountain–plain circulation (FRMC) is a large-scale diurnally driven wind system that occurs east of the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the United States and affects the weather both in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. As the climate warms, the snow albedo feedback will amplify the warming response in the Rocky Mountains during the spring, increasing the thermal contrast that drives the FRMC. In this study, the authors perform a 7-yr pseudo–global warming (PGW) regional climate change experiment along with an idealized PGW “fixed albedo” experiment to test the sensitivity of the FRMC to the snow albedo feedback (SAF). The authors find a mean increase in the springtime FRMC strength in the PGW experiment that is primarily driven by the snow albedo feedback. Furthermore, interannual variability of changes in FRMC strength is strongly influenced by interannual variability in the SAF. An additional case study experiment configured with a much higher resolution is performed to examine the finescale details of how the SAF and the FRMC interact. This experiment includes a passive tracer to investigate subsequent impacts on pollution transport. The case study reveals that loss of snow cover causes an increase in the strength of the FRMC. Advection by the strengthened FRMC increases the concentration of tracers emitted over the Great Plains in the boundary layer over the Front Range mountains.

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Justin R. Minder
,
Dale R. Durran
, and
Gerard H. Roe

Abstract

Observations show that on a mountainside the boundary between snow and rain, the snow line, is often located at an elevation hundreds of meters below its elevation in the free air upwind. The processes responsible for this mesoscale lowering of the snow line are examined in semi-idealized simulations with a mesoscale numerical model and in simpler theoretical models. Spatial variations in latent cooling from melting precipitation, in adiabatic cooling from vertical motion, and in the melting distance of frozen hydrometeors are all shown to make important contributions. The magnitude of the snow line drop, and the relative importance of the responsible processes, depends on properties of the incoming flow and terrain geometry. Results suggest that the depression of the snow line increases with increasing temperature, a relationship that, if present in nature, could act to buffer mountain hydroclimates against the impacts of climate warming. The simulated melting distance, and hence the snow line, depends substantially on the choice of microphysical parameterization, pointing to an important source of uncertainty in simulations of mountain snowfall.

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Justin R. Minder
,
Ronald B. Smith
, and
Alison D. Nugent

Abstract

The mountainous Caribbean island of Dominica was chosen as a natural laboratory for studying orographic convection in the tropics. Here, the authors focus on a prototypical case study, taken from the Dominica Experiment (DOMEX) field campaign in the spring of 2011. Airborne measurements and high-resolution numerical experiments are used to examine the mesoscale dynamics of moist airflow over Dominica and its relationship to convection, turbulence, and rainfall.

Upwind of the island, there is minimal lateral deflection or lifting of the flow, largely because of latent heat release in the overisland convection. Over the terrain, forced ascent leads to rapid development of moist convection, buoyancy-generated turbulence, and rainfall. Although this convection produces sporadic bursts of heavy rainfall, it does not appear to enhance the time-mean rainfall. Over the lee slopes, a dry plunging flow produces anisotropic shear-generated turbulence and strong low-level winds while quickly dissipating convection and rainfall. In the wake, low-level air is decelerated, both by turbulence in the plunging flow and by frictional drag over the island. Low-level wake air is also dried and warmed, primarily by turbulent vertical mixing and regional descent, both associated with the downslope flow. Rainfall and latent heating play only a secondary role in warming and drying the wake.

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Alison D. Nugent
,
Ronald B. Smith
, and
Justin R. Minder

Abstract

This study compares observations from the Dominica Experiment (DOMEX) field campaign with 3D and 2D Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) simulations to understand how ambient upstream wind speed controls the transition from thermally to mechanically forced moist orographic convection. The environment is a conditionally unstable, tropical atmosphere with shallow trade wind cumulus clouds. Three flow indices are defined to quantify the convective transition: horizontal divergence aloft, cloud location, and island surface temperature. As wind speed increases, horizontal airflow divergence from plume detrainment above the mountain changes to convergence associated with plunging flow, convective clouds relocate from the leeward to the windward side of the mountain as mechanically triggered convection takes over, and the daytime mountaintop temperature decreases because of increased ventilation and cloud shading. Possible mechanisms by which wind speed controls island precipitation are also discussed. The result is a clearer understanding of orographic convection in the tropics.

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