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Matthew T. Vaughan and Robert G. Fovell

Abstract

Subgrid-scale turbulence in numerical weather prediction models is typically handled by a PBL parameterization. These schemes attempt to represent turbulent mixing processes occurring below the resolvable scale of the model grid in the vertical direction, and they act upon temperature, moisture, and momentum within the boundary layer. This study varies the PBL mixing strength within 4-km WRF simulations of a 26–29 January 2015 snowstorm to assess the sensitivity of baroclinic cyclones to eddy diffusivity intensity. The bulk critical Richardson number for unstable regimes is varied between 0.0 and 0.25 within the YSU PBL scheme as a way of directly altering the depth and magnitude of subgrid-scale turbulent mixing. Results suggest that varying the bulk critical Richardson number is similar to selecting a different PBL parameterization. Differences in boundary layer moisture availability, arising from reduced entrainment of dry, free tropospheric air, lead to variations in the magnitude of latent heat release above the warm frontal region, producing stronger upper-tropospheric downstream ridging in simulations with less PBL mixing. The more amplified flow pattern impedes the northeastward propagation of the surface cyclone and results in a westward shift of precipitation. In addition, trajectory analysis indicates that ascending parcels in the less-mixing simulations condense more water vapor and terminate at a higher potential temperature level than do ascending parcels in the more-mixing simulations, suggesting stronger latent heat release when PBL mixing is reduced. These results suggest that spread within ensemble forecast systems may be improved by perturbing PBL mixing parameters that are not well constrained.

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