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Scott W. Powell

Abstract

Processes responsible for widespread development of moderately deep cumulonimbi during a transition period before onset of two large-scale convective events associated with the Madden–Julian oscillation in late 2011 are investigated. A regional model (WRF) is capable of rapidly producing an approximately 3-day-long transition period prior to MJO convective onset similar to observed transition periods, during which moderately deep cumulonimbi were prevalent. During transition periods, evaporation in precipitating elements and horizontal advection of moisture away from the clouds in the nearby clear-air environment contributed to humidification below 400 hPa. Nonprecipitating clouds were present in the model mostly between 900 and 950 hPa and had no major impact on tropospheric moistening. Whether nonprecipitating cumuli grew into moderately deep cumulonimbi largely depended on the buoyancy of updrafts that extended into the 700–850-hPa layer. As mean environmental temperatures decreased, the mean cumulus updraft buoyancy in this layer became less negative. The start of two simulated transition periods were marked by rapid decreases in environmental temperature caused by reduction in environmental subsidence and/or increased cooling by advection or radiation. Small, widespread changes in the difference between 700- and 850-hPa environmental and updraft temperatures—on the order of 0.1 K and less than 0.4 K—had important ramifications for whether shallow clouds grew vertically into moderately deep clouds that moistened the troposphere and made it conducive to MJO convective onset.

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Scott W. Powell

Abstract

Radar and rawinsonde data from four ground-based observing stations in the tropical Indo-Pacific warm pool were used to identify possible associations of environmental state variables and their vertical profiles with radar-derived rain rate inside a mesoscale radar domain when the column-integrated relative humidity (CRH) exceeds 80%. At CRH exceeding 80%, a wide range—from near 0 to ~50 mm day−1—in rain rate is observed; therefore, tropospheric moisture was a necessary but insufficient condition for deep convection. This study seeks to identify possible factors that inhibit rainfall when the atmosphere is sufficiently moist to support large precipitation rates. The domain-mean rain rate was highly sensitive to the areal coverage of intense, convective rainfall that occurs. There were two fundamentally different instances in which convective area was low. One was when the radar domain is primarily occupied by weakly precipitating, stratiform echoes. The other was when the radar domain contained almost no precipitating echoes of any type. While the former was dependent upon the stage of the convective life cycle seen by radar, the latter was probably dependent upon the convective environment. Areal coverage of convective echoes was largely determined by the number of individual convective echoes rather than their sizes, so changes in the clear-air environment of updrafts might have governed how many updrafts grew into deep cumulonimbi. The most likely environmental influence on convective rainfall identified using rawinsonde data was 900–700-hPa lapse rate; however, processes occurring on spatial scales smaller than a radar domain were probably also important but not investigated.

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Scott W. Powell

Abstract

Idealized simulations of tropical, marine convection depict shallow, nonprecipitating cumuli located beneath the 0°C level transitioning into cumulonimbi that reach up to 12 km and higher. The timing of the transition was only weakly related to environmental stability, and 13 of the 15 simulations run with 5 different lapse-rate profiles had rain develop at nearly the same time after model start. The key quantity that apparently controlled deep convective formation was vertical acceleration inside cloudy updrafts between cloud base and the 0°C level. Below a critical value of updraft vertical acceleration, little rainfall occurred. Just as the domain-mean updraft acceleration reached the critical value, the first convection quickly grew to past 12 km altitude. Then, as acceleration increased above the critical value, rain rate averaged in the model domain increased quickly over about a 3-h-long period. The specific value of the critical updraft acceleration depended on how updrafts were defined and in what layer the acceleration was averaged; however, regardless of how criticality was defined, a robust relationship between domain-mean updraft vertical acceleration and rain rate occurred. Positive acceleration of updrafts below the 0°C level was present below 2.75 km and was largest in the 500 m above cloud base. However, the maximum difference between updraft and environmental temperatures occurred between 2 and 3 km. The domain-mean Archimedean buoyancy of updrafts relative to some reference state was a poor predictor for domain-mean rain rate. The exact value of the critical updraft acceleration likely depends on numerous other factors that were not investigated.

Significance Statement

A numerical model is utilized to investigate potential thermodynamic and dynamic quantities related to the growth of cumulus clouds into cumulonimbus clouds over tropical oceans when the atmosphere is sufficiently moist to support rainfall. Archimedean buoyancy alone cannot be used to predict rain rate reliably. Instead the total buoyancy not relative to an arbitrary reference state must be considered. The simulated relationship between total vertical acceleration in updrafts and rain rate was robust. While the processes that control the vertical acceleration remain unclear, our results highlight the importance of observing processes that occur on spatial scales of tens of meters and temporal scales of a few minutes.

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Scott W. Powell

Abstract

An idealized large eddy simulation of a tropical marine cloud population was performed. At any time, it contained hundreds of clouds, and updraft width in shallow convection emerging from a sub-cloud layer appeared to be an important indicator of whether specific convective elements deepened. In an environment with 80–90% relative humidity below the 0°C level, updrafts that penetrated the 0°C level were larger at and above cloud base, which occurred at the lifting condensation level near 600 m. Parcels rising in these updrafts appeared to emerge from boundary layer eddies that averaged ∼200 m wider than those in clouds that only reached 1.5–3 km height. The deeply ascending parcels (growers) possessed statistically similar values of effective buoyancy below the level of free convection (LFC) as parcels that began to ascend in a cloud but stopped before reaching 3000 m (non-growers). The growers also experienced less dilution above the LFC. Non-growers were characterized by negative effective buoyancy and rapid deceleration above the LFC, while growers continued to accelerate well above the LFC. Growers occurred in areas with greater magnitude of background convergence (or weaker divergence) in the sub-cloud layer, especially between 300 m and cloud base, but whether the convergence actually led to eddy widening is unclear.

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Naoko Sakaeda
,
Scott W. Powell
,
Juliana Dias
, and
George N. Kiladis

Abstract

This study uses high-resolution rainfall estimates from the S-Polka radar during the DYNAMO field campaign to examine variability of the diurnal cycle of rainfall associated with MJO convection over the Indian Ocean. Two types of diurnal rainfall peaks were found: 1) a late afternoon rainfall peak associated with the diurnal peak in sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and surface fluxes and 2) an early to late morning rainfall peak associated with increased low-tropospheric moisture. Both peaks appear during the MJO suppressed phase, which tends to have stronger SST warming in the afternoon, while the morning peak is dominant during the MJO enhanced phase. The morning peak occurs on average at 0000–0300 LST during the MJO suppressed phase, while it is delayed until 0400–0800 LST during the MJO enhanced phase. This delay partly results from an increased upscale growth of deep convection to broader stratiform rain regions during the MJO enhanced phase. During the MJO suppressed phase, rainfall is dominated by deep and isolated convective cells that are short-lived and peak in association with either the afternoon SST warming or nocturnal moisture increase. This study demonstrates that knowledge of the evolution of cloud and rain types is critical to explaining the diurnal cycle of rainfall and its variability. Some insights into the role of the complex interactions between radiation, moisture, and clouds in driving the diurnal cycle of rainfall are also discussed.

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Scott W. Powell
,
Robert A. Houze Jr.
,
Anil Kumar
, and
Sally A. McFarlane

Abstract

Vertically pointing millimeter-wavelength radar observations of anvil clouds extending from mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) that pass over an Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) field site in Niamey, Niger, are compared to anvil structures generated by the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) mesoscale model using six different microphysical schemes. The radar data provide the statistical distribution of the radar reflectivity values as a function of height and anvil thickness. These statistics are compared to the statistics of the modeled anvil cloud reflectivity at all altitudes. Requiring the model to be statistically accurate at all altitudes is a stringent test of the model performance. The typical vertical profile of radiative heating in the anvil clouds is computed from the radar observations. Variability of anvil structures from the different microphysical schemes provides an estimate of the inherent uncertainty in anvil radiative heating profiles. All schemes underestimate the optical thickness of thin anvils and cirrus, resulting in a bias of excessive net anvil heating in all of the simulations.

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David S. Nolan
,
Scott W. Powell
,
Chidong Zhang
, and
Brian E. Mapes

Abstract

A mesoscale numerical model with an idealized tropical channel environment is used to study the dynamics of intertropical convergence zones (ITCZs) and the recently identified shallow return flow (SRF) and midlevel inflow (MLI). Four idealized sea surface temperature (SST) distributions are used: a meridionally symmetric SST profile with a sharply peaked SST maximum at the equator, a similar profile with the maximum SST shifted off the equator, a cosine-shaped SST profile with zero gradient at the equator, and an idealized SST profile modeled after the observed SST of the eastern Pacific.

The simulations show that both the SRF and the MLI are robust features of the ITCZ. The prior result that the SRF is a sea-breeze-like response to surface temperature gradients is further supported, whereas the MLI is caused by the upper-level maxima in diabatic heating and vertical motion. Simulations with the SST maximum at the equator generate long-lasting, convectively coupled Kelvin waves. When the SST maximum is off the equator, the meridional circulations become highly asymmetric with strong cross-equatorial flow. Tropical cyclones are frequently generated by dynamic instability of the off-equatorial ITCZs.

The contributions of the multilevel circulations to regional budgets of mass, water, and moist static energy (MSE) are computed. About 10% of the total water transported into the ITCZ region is transported out by the SRF. The water transport of the MLI is minimal, but its mass and MSE transports are significant, accounting for about ⅓ of the mass and MSE entering the ITCZ region. Eddy fluxes are found to be a large component of the net vertically integrated transport of MSE out of the ITCZ.

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Ángel F. Adames
,
Scott W. Powell
,
Fiaz Ahmed
,
Víctor C. Mayta
, and
J. David Neelin

Abstract

Observations have shown that tropical convection is influenced by fluctuations in temperature and moisture in the lower free troposphere (LFT; 600–850 hPa), as well as moist enthalpy (ME) fluctuations beneath the 850 hPa level, referred to as the deep boundary layer (DBL; 850–1000 hPa). A framework is developed that consolidates these three quantities within the context of the buoyancy of an entraining plume. A “plume buoyancy equation” is derived based on a relaxed version of the weak temperature gradient (WTG) approximation. Analysis of this equation using quantities derived from the Dynamics of the Madden–Julian Oscillation (DYNAMO) sounding array data reveals that processes occurring within the DBL and the LFT contribute nearly equally to the evolution of plume buoyancy, indicating that processes that occur in both layers are critical to the evolution of tropical convection. Adiabatic motions play an important role in the evolution of buoyancy both at the daily and longer time scales and are comparable in magnitude to horizontal moisture advection and vertical moist static energy advection by convection. The plume buoyancy equation may explain convective coupling at short time scales in both temperature and moisture fluctuations and can be used to complement the commonly used moist static energy budget, which emphasizes the slower evolution of the convective envelope in tropical motion systems.

Open access
Brandon Wolding
,
Juliana Dias
,
George Kiladis
,
Fiaz Ahmed
,
Scott W. Powell
,
Eric Maloney
, and
Mark Branson

Abstract

Realistically representing the multiscale interactions between moisture and tropical convection remains an ongoing challenge for weather prediction and climate models. In this study, we revisit the relationship between precipitation and column saturation fraction (CSF) by investigating their tendencies in CSF–precipitation space using satellite and radar observations, as well as reanalysis. A well-known, roughly exponential increase in precipitation occurs as CSF increases above a “critical point,” which acts as an attractor in CSF–precipitation space. Each movement away from and subsequent return toward the attractor results in a small net change of the coupled system, causing it to evolve in a cyclical fashion around the attractor. This cyclical evolution is characterized by shallow and convective precipitation progressively moistening the environment and strengthening convection, stratiform precipitation progressively weakening convection, and drying in the nonprecipitating and lightly precipitation regime. This behavior is evident across a range of spatiotemporal scales, suggesting that shortcomings in model representation of the joint evolution of convection and large-scale moisture will negatively impact a broad range of spatiotemporal scales. Novel process-level diagnostics indicate that several models, all implementing versions of the Zhang–McFarlane deep convective parameterization, exhibit unrealistic coupling between column moisture and convection.

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Xiping Zeng
,
Wei-Kuo Tao
,
Scott W. Powell
,
Robert A. Houze Jr.
,
Paul Ciesielski
,
Nick Guy
,
Harold Pierce
, and
Toshihisa Matsui

Abstract

Two field campaigns, the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA) and the Tropical Warm Pool–International Cloud Experiment (TWP-ICE), took place in 2006 near Niamey, Niger, and Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, providing extensive observations of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) near a desert and a tropical coast, respectively. Under the constraint of their observations, three-dimensional cloud-resolving model simulations are carried out and presented in this paper to replicate the basic characteristics of the observed MCSs. All of the modeled MCSs exhibit a distinct structure having deep convective clouds accompanied by stratiform and anvil clouds. In contrast to the approximately 100-km-scale MCSs observed in TWP-ICE, the MCSs in AMMA have been successfully simulated with a scale of about 400 km.

These modeled AMMA and TWP-ICE MCSs offer an opportunity to understand the structure and mechanism of MCSs. Comparing the water budgets between AMMA and TWP-ICE MCSs suggests that TWP-ICE convective clouds have stronger ascent while the mesoscale ascent outside convective clouds in AMMA is stronger. A case comparison, with the aid of sensitivity experiments, also suggests that vertical wind shear and ice crystal (or dust aerosol) concentration can significantly impact stratiform and anvil clouds (e.g., their areas) in MCSs. In addition, the obtained water budgets quantitatively describe the transport of water between convective, stratiform, and anvil regions as well as water sources/sinks from microphysical processes, providing information that can be used to help determine parameters in the convective and cloud parameterizations in general circulation models (GCMs).

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