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Adam H. Sobel, Sandra E. Yuter, Christopher S. Bretherton, and George N. Kiladis


An overview of the large-scale behavior of the atmosphere during the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Kwajalein Experiment (KWAJEX) is presented. Sounding and ground radar data collected during KWAJEX, and several routinely available datasets including the Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS), NOAA outgoing longwave radiation (OLR), the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I), and ECMWF operational analyses are used. One focus is on the dynamical characterization of synoptic-scale systems in the western/central tropical Pacific during KWAJEX, particularly those that produced the largest rainfall at Kwajalein. Another is the local relationships observed on daily time scales among various thermodynamic variables and areal average rain rate. These relationships provide evidence regarding the degree and kind of local thermodynamic control of convection.

Although convection in the Marshall Islands and surrounding regions often appears chaotic when viewed in satellite imagery, the largest rain events at Kwajalein during the experiment were clearly associated with large-scale envelopes of convection, which propagated coherently over several days and thousands of kilometers, had clear signals in the lower-level large-scale wind field, and are classifiable in terms of known wave modes. Spectral filtering identifies mixed Rossby–gravity (MRG) and Kelvin waves prominently in the OLR data. “Tropical depression–type” disturbances are also evident. In some cases multiple wave types may be associated with a single event. Three brief case studies involving different wave types are presented.

Daily-mean sounding data averaged over the five sounding sites show evidence of shallow convective adjustment, in that near-surface moist static energy variations correlate closely with lower-tropospheric temperature. Evidence of thermodynamic control of deep convection on daily time scales is weaker. Upper-tropospheric temperature is weakly correlated with near-surface moist static energy. There are correlations of relative humidity (RH) with deep convection. Significant area-averaged rainfall occurs only above a lower-tropospheric RH threshold of near 80%. Above this threshold there is a weak but significant correlation of further lower-tropospheric RH increases with enhanced rain rate. Upper-tropospheric RH increases more consistently with rain rate. Lag correlations suggest that higher lower-tropospheric RH favors subsequent convection while higher upper-tropospheric RH is a result of previous or current convection. Convective available potential energy and surface wind speed have weak negative and positive relationships to rain rate, respectively. A strong relationship between surface wind speed (a proxy for latent heat flux) and rain rate has been recently observed in the eastern Pacific. It is suggested that in the KWAJEX region, this relationship is weaker because there are strong zonal gradients of vertically integrated water vapor. The strongest surface winds tend to be easterlies, so that strong surface fluxes are accompanied by strong dry-air advection from the east of Kwajalein. These two effects are of opposite sign in the moist static energy budget, reducing the tendency for strong surface fluxes to promote rainfall.

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Kimberly K. Comstock, Sandra E. Yuter, Robert Wood, and Christopher S. Bretherton


Drizzling marine stratocumulus are examined using observations from the 2001 East Pacific Investigation of Climate Stratocumulus (EPIC Sc) field experiment. This study uses a unique combination of satellite and shipborne Doppler radar data including both horizontal and vertical cross sections through drizzle cells. Stratocumulus cloud structure was classified as closed cellular, open cellular, or unclassifiable using infrared satellite images. Distributions of drizzle cell structure, size, and intensity are similar among the cloud-structure categories, though the open-cellular distributions are shifted toward higher values. Stronger and larger drizzle cells preferentially occur when the cloud field is broken (open-cellular and unclassifiable categories). Satellite observations of cloud structure may be useful to indicate the most likely distribution of rain rates associated with a set of scenes, but infrared data alone are not sufficient to develop routine precipitation retrievals for marine stratocumulus. Individual drizzle cells about 2–20 km across usually showed precipitation growth within the cloud layer and evaporation below, divergence near echo top, and convergence below cloud base. Diverging flow near the surface was also observed beneath heavily precipitating drizzle cells. As the cloud field transitioned from a closed to an open-cellular cloud structure, shipborne radar revealed prolific development of small drizzle cells (<10 km2) that exceeded by over 5 times the number of total cells in either the preceding closed-cellular or following open-cellular periods. Peak area-average rain rates lagged by a few hours the peak in total number of drizzle cells. Based on observations from EPIC Sc, the highest stratocumulus rain rates are more likely to occur near the boundary between closed and open-cellular cloud structures.

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