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Nicholas E. Clark
Sandip Pal
, and
Temple R. Lee


Despite many observational studies on the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) depth zi variability across various time scales (e.g., diurnal, seasonal, annual, and decadal), zi variability before, during, and after frontal passages over land, or simply zi variability as a function of weather patterns, has remained relatively unexplored. In this study, we provide an empirical framework using 5 years (2014–18) of daytime rawinsonde observations and surface analyses over 18 central and southeastern U.S. sites to report zi variability across frontal boundaries. By providing systematic observations of front-relative contrasts in zi (i.e., zi differences between warm and cold sectors, Δ z i = z i Warm z i Cold ) and boundary layer moisture (i.e., ABL-q) regimes in summer and winter, we propose a new paradigm to study zi changes across cold-frontal boundaries. For most cases, we found deeper zi over the warm sector than the cold sector in both summer and winter, although with significant site-to-site variability in Δzi . Additionally, our results show a positive Δq ABL (i.e., frontal contrasts in ABL-q) in summer and winter, supporting what is typically observed in midlatitude cyclones. We found that a front-relative Δq ABL of 1 g kg−1 often yielded at least a 100-m Δzi across the frontal boundary in both summer and winter. This work provides a synoptic-scale basis for zi variability and establishes a foundation for model verification to examine the impact of airmass exchange associated with advection on zi . This work will advance our understanding of ABL processes in synoptic environments and help unravel sources of front-relative zi variability.

Significance Statement

The atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) is the lowermost part of the atmosphere adjacent to Earth’s surface. The irregular motion of air inside the ABL plays an essential role in relocating air near the surface to the free troposphere. Meteorologists use ABL depth in weather forecast models to determine the atmosphere’s ability to dilute or enrich tracers within the ABL. However, knowledge about the changes in ABL depth during stormy conditions remains incomplete. Here, we investigate how the ABL depth varies before and after cold-frontal passages. We found that ABL depths were much deeper before the cold-frontal passages than after. This knowledge will help us develop new approaches to consider how storms modify the ABL in weather forecast models.

Open access