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Peter Knippertz and Andreas H. Fink

Abstract

Precipitation is a major socioeconomic factor in the Guineo-Soudanian zone of tropical West Africa with its distinct summer rainy season from May to October. Albeit rare, precipitation during the dry season can have substantial impacts on the local hydrology and human activities reaching from the rotting of harvests to improved grazing conditions. This study provides an observationally based synoptic and dynamical analysis of an abundant rainfall event during the dry season of 2003/04 that affected the countries of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. The results point to a forcing of the rainfalls from the extratropics in the following ways: 1) Upper-level clouds and moisture to the east of a weak, quasi-stationary extratropical disturbance enhance the greenhouse effect over the Sahel and the adjacent Sahara, and thereby cause a net-column warm anomaly and falling surface pressure. 2) One day before the precipitation event, negative pressure tendencies are further enhanced through warm advection and subsidence associated with the penetration of a more intense upper-trough into Algeria. 3) The resulting northward shift and intensification of the weak wintertime heat low allows low-level moist southerlies from the Gulf of Guinea to penetrate into the Soudanian zone. 4) Finally, daytime heating of the land surface and convective dynamics initiate heavy rainfalls. Operational forecasts of this event were promising, pointing to a strong control by the comparatively well-predicted extratropical upper-level circulation.

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Peter Knippertz and Andreas H. Fink

Abstract

Precipitation during the boreal winter dry season in tropical West Africa is rare but occasionally results in significant impacts on the local population. The dynamics and predictability of this phenomenon have been studied very little. Here, a statistical evaluation of the climatology, dynamics, and predictions of dry-season wet events is presented for the region 7.5°–15°N, 10°W–10°E. The analysis is based upon Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) merged satellite–gauge pentad rainfall estimates and 5-day 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) precipitation forecasts, and covers the 23 dry seasons (November–February) during 1979/80–2001/02. Wet events are defined as pentads with an area-averaged precipitation anomaly of more than +200% with respect to the mean seasonal cycle. Composites of the 43 identified events indicate an association with a trough over northwestern Africa, a tropical plume on its eastern side, unusual precipitation at the northern and western fringes of the Sahara, and reduced surface pressure over the Sahara, which allows an inflow of moist southerlies from the Gulf of Guinea to feed the unusual dry-season rainfalls. The results give evidence for a preconditioning by another disturbance about 1 week prior to the precipitation event. The ERA-40 forecasts show a high temporal correlation with observations, a general wet bias, but a somewhat too low number of wet events. With 53% of all identified events correctly forecasted and only 32% of forecasted events not verified, the model shows moderate skill in contrast to the prediction of many other tropical precipitation systems. A separate consideration of hits, misses, and false alarms corroborates the previously proposed hypothesis that a strong extratropical influence enhances the quality of predictions in this region. The results should encourage weather services in West Africa to take advantage of available dry-season precipitation forecasts in terms of the dissemination of early warnings.

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Andreas Schlueter, Andreas H. Fink, and Peter Knippertz

Abstract

This study presents the first systematic comparison of the dynamics and thermodynamics associated with all major tropical wave types causing rainfall modulation over northern tropical Africa: the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), equatorial Rossby waves (ERs), tropical disturbances (TDs, including African easterly waves), Kelvin waves, mixed Rossby–gravity waves (MRGs), and eastward inertio-gravity waves (EIGs). Reanalysis and radiosonde data were analyzed for the period 1981–2013 based on space–time filtering of outgoing longwave radiation. The identified circulation patterns are largely consistent with theory. The slow modes, MJO and ER, mainly impact precipitable water, whereas the faster TDs, Kelvin waves, and MRGs primarily modulate moisture convergence. Monsoonal inflow intensifies during wet phases of the MJO, ERs, and MRGs, associated with a northward shift of the intertropical discontinuity for MJO and ERs. This study reveals that MRGs over Africa have a distinct dynamical structure that differs significantly from AEWs. During passages of vertically tilted imbalanced wave modes, such as the MJO, TDs, Kelvin waves, and partly MRG waves, increased vertical wind shear and improved conditions for up- and downdrafts facilitate the organization of mesoscale convective systems. The balanced ERs are not tilted, and rainfall is triggered by large-scale moistening and stratiform lifting. The MJO and ERs interact with intraseasonal variations of the Indian monsoon and extratropical Rossby wave trains. The latter causes a trough over the Atlas Mountains associated with a tropical plume and rainfall over the Sahara. The presented results unveil which dynamical processes need to be modeled realistically to represent the coupling between tropical waves and rainfall in northern tropical Africa.

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Dayton G. Vincent and Andreas H. Fink

Abstract

This study uses a 1° × 1° lat–long dataset, extracted from ECMWF reanalyses for the 15-yr period 1979–93 (ERA-15), to composite environmental characteristics and flow features in the vicinity of named tropical cyclones (TCs) in the eastern and western North Pacific Ocean basins. Tropical cyclones are partitioned into one of four classifications as they pass by selected locations along the axes of maximum frequency and TC tracks: weak (W), strong (S), intensifying (I), or dissipating (D).

Results of this study show that peak values of rising motion, within the same classification, are greater for TC composites in the western Pacific than for those in the eastern Pacific. The level of maximum rising motion was at or above the 500-hPa level for all locations and classifications, except for the Ss at our northernmost point (25°N, 130°E) in the western Pacific. Their maximum upward motion occurred at 700 hPa. It is also found that the latter systems, contrary to all other points, were located in a region of minimum large-scale convective instability. As one cause of stabilization, large-scale advection of drier air from the East China Sea into the western and southern vicinity of the composite storm is identified.

Anomalies of precipitable water (PW) were found to be related to the intensity of the storm, but not to the amount of available climatological “background” moisture. In the eastern Pacific, the monsoontype southwesterly moisture flow across 10°N was much stronger and deeper for Is than for Ws at point B (17.5°N, 112.5°W). On the other hand, the eastern Pacific Ws were more impacted by westward transports originating off the Central American coast. When integrated from the surface to 700 hPa, the net effect was a change in the direction of moisture transport vectors and, therefore, in the major source region. Such a distinct directional change between classifications was exceptional to point B, and was not found for the three points in the western Pacific and South China Sea.

Finally, based on ERA-15 model-produced rain rates, it is found that, in the western Pacific, total precipitation rates for this study were compatible with those of earlier research by W. M. Frank, who used large-scale data. The fraction of ERA-15 stratiform precipitation to the total precipitation varies from 25% to 47% in composite samples used here. The representation of convective and stratiform rain in the ERA-15 model obviously favors the former when the systems are stronger and have a more intense and broader secondary circulation.

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Peter Knippertz, Andreas H. Fink, and Susan Pohle

Abstract

Hydrostatic tendency equations of pressure and geopotential have been used in various forms since the beginning of the twentieth century. In contrast to classical mass flux divergence formulations, all forms that involve vertical integrals of temperature tendencies contain an additional term related to geopotential tendency at the upper limit of the integral. In many previous studies, including a recent work by two of the authors on a case of unusual wintertime precipitation in tropical West Africa, it has been assumed that there exists a pressure level in the stratosphere (usually 100 or 50 hPa) where these tendencies become negligible. This assumption implies a direct relation between net column heating and surface pressure fall. Prompted by a critique of Spengler and Egger, the validity of the concept of a stratospheric level of insignificant dynamics is tested here for the previously studied case on the basis of operational analyses from the ECMWF. At least for low latitudes, significant tendencies with some spatial and temporal variations are found up to 10 hPa, which renders a general neglect of this term on a fixed pressure level problematic. These results call for a more detailed investigation of the dynamical causes of the analyzed tendencies, a reevaluation of some previous work, and a more careful design of future studies on this subject.

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Jon M. Schrage and Andreas H. Fink

Abstract

The West African squall line is a key quasi-linear storm system that brings much of the precipitation observed in the data-poor Sudanian climate zone. Squall lines propagate at a wide range of speeds and headings, but the lack of operational radar stations in the region makes quantifying the propagation of the squall lines difficult. A new method of estimating the propagation rate and heading for squall lines is proposed. Based on measurements of the time of onset of precipitation (OOP) at a network of rain gauge stations, an estimate of the propagation characteristics of the squall line can be inferred. By combining estimates of propagation rate with upper-air observations gathered at a nearby radiosonde station, the impact of various environmental factors on the propagation characteristics of West African squall lines is inferred. Results suggest that the propagation speed for West African squall lines is related to the conditions at midtropospheric levels, where dry air and an enhanced easterly flow favor faster propagation. Northerly anomalies at these levels are also associated with faster propagation. When applied to West African squall lines, the correlations between these environmental factors and the speed of propagation are significantly higher than those of methods developed for mesoscale convective systems in other parts of the world.

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Robert Redl, Andreas H. Fink, and Peter Knippertz

Abstract

Convective cold pool events in (semi) arid areas have significant impacts on their environment. They reach horizontal extents of up to several hundred kilometers and the associated turbulence and shear can cause dust emissions and threaten aviation safety. Furthermore, cold pools play a major role in the organization of deep convection and in horizontal moisture transport. They have even been proposed to have impacts on larger-scale monsoon dynamics. Cold pools are not well represented in models using a convective parameterization. To test and improve these models, it is necessary to reliably detect cold pool occurrence from standard observational data. Former studies, however, focused on single cases or short time periods.

Here, an objective and automated method for the generation of multiyear climatologies of cold-pool events is presented. The algorithm combines standard surface observations with satellite microwave data. Representativeness of stations and influence of their spatial density are addressed by comparison to a satellite-only climatology. Applying this algorithm to data from automatic weather stations and manned synoptic stations in and south of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Algeria reveals the frequent occurrence of cold pool events in this region. On the order of six cold-pool events per month are detected from May to September when the Saharan heat low is in its northernmost position. The events tend to cluster into several-days-long convectively active periods, often with strong events on consecutive days. The algorithm is flexible enough to be applied in comparable regions around the world.

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Jon M. Schrage and Andreas H. Fink

Abstract

Some spatiotemporal characteristics and possible mechanisms controlling the onset of the widespread, low-level nocturnal stratiform clouds that formed during May–October 2006 over southern tropical West Africa are investigated using cloudiness observations from surface weather stations, data from various satellite platforms, and surface-based remote sensing profiles at Nangatchori in central Benin. It is found that the continental stratus is lower than the maritime stratus over the Gulf of Guinea and persists well into the noon hours. For the study period, a clear seasonal cycle was documented, as well as a dependence on latitude with the cloudiest zone north of the coastal zone and south of approximately 9°N. It is also shown that nonprecipitating clear and cloudy nights observed at Nangatchori in central Benin often reflect clearer and cloudier than normal conditions over a wide region of southern West Africa. At Nangatchori, on average the stratus developed at 0236 UTC (about local time) with an extremely low cloud base at 172 m (above ground level) when averaged over all cloudy nights. About 2–3 h before cloudiness onset, a distinct nighttime low-level jet formed that promoted static destabilization and a low Richardson number flow underneath it. The ensuing vertical upward mixing of moisture that accumulated under the near-surface inversion after sunset caused the cloud formation. It is argued that a strong shear underneath the nighttime low-level jet is the major process for cloud formation, but the low-level static stability and the time scale of the shear-driven mixing are other potential factors.

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Robert Schuster, Andreas H. Fink, and Peter Knippertz

Abstract

The southern parts of West Africa are frequently covered by an extensive deck of shallow, low (200–400 m AGL) stratus or stratocumulus clouds during the summer monsoon. These clouds usually form at night in association with a nocturnal low-level jet (NLLJ) and can persist into the early afternoon hours. Recent work suggests that the stratus deck is unsatisfactorily represented in standard satellite retrievals and state-of-the-art climate models. Here the authors use high-resolution regional simulations with the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) and observations from the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA) 2006 campaign to investigate (i) the spatiotemporal distribution, (ii) the influence on the shortwave radiation balance, and (iii) the detailed formation and maintenance mechanisms of the stratiform clouds. At least some configurations of WRF satisfactorily reproduce the diurnal cycle of the low-cloud evolution, yielding the following main conclusions: (i) The simulated stratus deck forms after sunset along the coast, spreads inland during the course of the night, and dissipates in the early afternoon. (ii) The average surface net shortwave radiation balance in stratus-dominated regions is about 35 W m−2 lower than in those with fewer clouds. (iii) The cloud formation is related to a subtle balance between “stratogenic” upward (downward) fluxes of latent (sensible) heat caused by shear-driven turbulence below the NLLJ, cold advection, orographic lifting, and radiative cooling on one hand, and “stratolytic” dry advection and latent heating on the other hand.

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Andreas Schlueter, Andreas H. Fink, Peter Knippertz, and Peter Vogel

Abstract

Low-latitude rainfall variability on the daily to intraseasonal time scale is often related to tropical waves, including convectively coupled equatorial waves, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and tropical disturbances (TDs). Despite the importance of rainfall variability for vulnerable societies in tropical Africa, the relative influence of tropical waves for this region is largely unknown. This article presents the first systematic comparison of the impact of six wave types on precipitation over northern tropical Africa during the transition and full monsoon seasons, using two satellite products and a dense rain gauge network. Composites of rainfall anomalies in the different datasets show comparable modulation intensities in the West Sahel and at the Guinea Coast, varying from less than 2 to above 7 mm day−1 depending on the wave type. African easterly waves (AEWs) and Kelvin waves dominate the 3-hourly to daily time scale and explain 10%–30% locally. On longer time scales (7–20 days), only the MJO and equatorial Rossby (ER) waves remain as modulating factors and explain about up to one-third of rainfall variability. Eastward inertio-gravity waves and mixed Rossby–gravity (MRG) waves are comparatively unimportant. An analysis of wave superposition shows that low-frequency waves (MJO, ER) in their wet phase amplify the activity of high-frequency waves (TD, MRG) and suppress them in the dry phase. The results stress that more attention should be paid to tropical waves when forecasting rainfall over northern tropical Africa.

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