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S. Joseph Munchak, Christian D. Kummerow, and Gregory Elsaesser

Abstract

Raindrop size distribution (DSD) retrievals from two years of data gathered by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite and processed with a combined radar–radiometer algorithm over the oceans equatorward of 35° are examined for relationships with variables describing properties of the vertical precipitation profile, mesoscale organization, and background environment. In general, higher freezing levels and relative humidities (tropical environments) are associated with smaller reflectivity-normalized median drop size (ϵ DSD) than in the extratropics. Within the tropics, the smallest ϵ DSD values are found in large, shallow convective systems where warm rain formation processes are thought to be predominant, whereas larger sizes are found in the stratiform regions of organized deep convection. In the extratropics, the largest ϵ DSD values are found in the scattered convection that occurs when cold, dry continental air moves over the much warmer ocean after the passage of a cold front. These relationships are formally attributed to variables describing the large-scale environment, mesoscale organization, and profile characteristics via principal component (PC) analysis. The leading three PCs account for 23% of the variance in ϵ DSD at the individual profile level and 45% of the variance in 1°-gridded mean values. The geographical distribution of ϵ DSD is consistent with many of the observed regional reflectivity–rainfall (ZR) relationships found in the literature as well as discrepancies between the TRMM radar-only and radiometer-only precipitation products. In particular, midlatitude and tropical regions near land tend to have larger drops for a given reflectivity, whereas the smallest drops are found in the eastern Pacific Ocean intertropical convergence zone.

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