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William P. Mahoney III and Alfred R. Rodi

Abstract

During the Joint Airport Weather Studies (JAWS) project in 1982, the University of Wyoming's King Air research aircraft made observations of raindrop size distributions, vertical and horizontal air motions, and the temperature and moisture variables in and near precipitation shafts. This research examines the kinematic, thermodynamic, and microphysical characteristics of microburst-producing showers. Four precipitation showers with radar reflectivities of <35 dBZ were selected for study, three of which produced microbursts.

An equivalent potential temperature (θ e) analysis, as well as vertical velocity measurements at cloud base, showed no strong evidence that the downdrafts were originating well above cloud base.

A simple evaporation and downdraft model was used to examine the role of hydrometeor evaporation below cloud base as a microburst forcing mechanism. The one-dimensional model without entrainment provided the conceptual basis for microburst development by means of microphysical forcing alone. Cooling rates, caused by the evaporation of precipitation below cloud base, were calculated from the observed hydrometeor spectra and humidity profiles. The vertical profiles of the cooling rates were used to estimate downdraft magnitudes. The calculated downdraft speeds were in reasonable agreement with the observed speeds suggesting that, at least in these weak systems, subcloud evaporation was the predominant microburst forcing mechanism.

The conditions favorable to microburst development were found to be consistent with previous studies. They included: 1) a deep, dry adiabatic layer below cloud base, 2) a high concentration of hydrometeors at or below cloud base, and 3) low humidity values in the descending parcel.

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