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Kevin M. Smalley and Anita D. Rapp

Abstract

Cloud models show that precipitation is more likely to occur in larger shallow clouds and/or in an environment with more moisture, in part as a result of decreasing the impacts of entrainment mixing on the updrafts. However, the role of cloud size in shallow cloud precipitation onset from global satellite observations has mostly been examined with precipitation proxies from imagers and has not been systematically examined in active sensors, primarily because of sensitivity limitations of previous spaceborne active instruments. Here we use the more sensitive CloudSat/CALIPSO observations to identify and characterize the properties of individual contiguous shallow cumulus cloud objects. The objects are conditionally sampled by cloud-top height to determine the changes in precipitation likelihood with increasing cloud size and column water vapor. On average, raining shallow cumulus clouds are typically taller by a factor of 2 and have a greater horizontal extent than their nonraining counterparts. Results show that for a fixed cloud-top height the likelihood of precipitation increases with increasing cloud size and generally follows a double power-law distribution. This suggests that the smallest cloud objects are able to grow freely within the boundary layer but the largest cloud objects are limited by environmental moisture. This is supported by our results showing that, for a fixed cloud-top height and cloud size, the precipitation likelihood also increases as environmental moisture increases. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that larger clouds occurring in a wetter environment may be better able to protect their updrafts from entrainment effects, increasing their chances of raining.

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Anita D. Rapp, M. Lebsock, and C. Kummerow

Abstract

How to deal with the different spatial resolutions of multifrequency satellite microwave radiometer measurements is a common problem in retrievals of cloud properties and rainfall. Data convolution and deconvolution is a common approach to resampling the measurements to a single resolution. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI) measurements are resampled to the resolution of the 19-GHz field of view for use in a multifrequency optimal estimation retrieval algorithm of cloud liquid water path, total precipitable water, and wind speed. Resampling the TMI measurements is found to have a strong influence on retrievals of cloud liquid water path and a slight influence on wind speed. Beam-filling effects in the resampled brightness temperatures are shown to be responsible for the large differences between the retrievals using the TMI native resolution and resampled brightness temperatures. Synthetic retrievals are performed to test the sensitivity of the retrieved parameters to beam-filling effects in the resampling of each of the different channels. Beam-filling effects due to the convolution of the 85-GHz channels are shown to be the largest contributor to differences in retrieved cloud liquid water path. Differences in retrieved wind speeds are found to be a combination of effects from deconvolving the 10-GHz brightness temperatures and compensation effects due to the lower liquid water path being retrieved by the high-frequency channels. The influence of beam-filling effects on daily and monthly averages of cloud liquid water path is also explored. Results show that space–time averaging of cloud liquid water path cannot fully compensate for the beam-filling effects and should be considered when using cloud liquid water path data for validation or in climate studies.

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Anita D. Rapp, G. Elsaesser, and C. Kummerow

Abstract

The complicated interactions between cloud processes in the tropical hydrologic cycle and their responses to changes in environmental variables have been the focus of many recent investigations. Most studies that examine the response of the hydrologic cycle to temperature changes focus on deep convection and cirrus production, but recent results suggest that warm rain clouds may be more sensitive to temperature changes. These clouds are prevalent in the tropics and make considerable contributions to the radiation budget and to total tropical rainfall, as well as serving to moisten and precondition the atmosphere for deep convection. A change in the properties of these clouds in climate-change scenarios could have significant implications for the hydrologic cycle. Existing microwave and visible retrievals of warm rain cloud liquid water path (LWP) disagree over the range of sea surface temperatures (SST) observed in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. Although both retrieval methods show similar behavior for nonraining clouds, the two methods show very different warm-rain-cloud LWP responses to SST, both in magnitude and trend. This makes changes to the relationship between precipitation and cloud properties in changing temperature regimes difficult to interpret. A combined optimal estimation retrieval algorithm that takes advantage of the strengths of the different satellite measurements available on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite has been developed. Deconvolved TRMM Microwave Imager brightness temperatures are combined with cloud fraction from the Visible and Infrared Scanner and rainwater estimates from the TRMM precipitation radar to retrieve the cloud LWP in warm rain systems. This algorithm is novel in that it takes into account the water in the rain and estimates the LWP due to only the cloud water in a raining cloud, thus allowing investigation of the effects of precipitation on cloud properties.

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Kyle R. Wodzicki and Anita D. Rapp

Abstract

Many recent studies have aimed to better understand changes in the characteristics of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), including ITCZ location, width, and precipitation intensity. However, very few studies have looked at the relationship between characteristics of convection within the ITCZ and ITCZ width. The present work uses information from an ITCZ identification database and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) precipitation feature (PF) database to quantify variations in convective characteristics across the ITCZ in the Pacific Ocean. Data are partitioned into wide and narrow ITCZ regimes to quantify differences in convection between different ITCZ regimes. Under the wide regime, convection deeper than 5 km, with areas greater than 100 km2, or stratiform rain fractions greater than 0.5 is, on average, 24%, 23%, and 12% more frequent, respectively. In the narrow regime, the signal is reversed, with average increases in the frequency of convection with heights below 5 km, areas less than 100 km2, or stratiform rain fractions less than 0.5 of 15%, 4%, and 6%, respectively. Positive and negative anomalies in columnar water vapor (CWV) and sea surface temperature (SST) across the ITCZ are observed in the wide and narrow regimes, respectively. There is also a strong positive correlation between an El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) index and ITCZ width anomalies, with wide (narrow) ITCZs occurring during warm (cold) phases of ENSO. This implies that the strengthening and weakening of the Walker circulation associated with ENSO may play a role in modulating the convective populations that contribute to the Pacific ITCZ width variations.

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Anita D. Rapp, Christian Kummerow, Wesley Berg, and Brian Griffith

Abstract

Significant controversy surrounds the adaptive infrared iris hypothesis put forth by Lindzen et al., whereby tropical anvil cirrus detrainment is hypothesized to decrease with increasing sea surface temperature (SST). This dependence would act as an iris, allowing more infrared radiation to escape into space and inhibiting changes in the surface temperature. This hypothesis assumes that increased precipitation efficiency in regions of higher sea surface temperatures will reduce cirrus detrainment. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite measurements are used here to investigate the adaptive infrared iris hypothesis. Pixel-level Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS) 10.8-μm brightness temperature data and precipitation radar (PR) rain-rate data from TRMM are collocated and matched to determine individual convective cloud boundaries. Each cloudy pixel is then matched to the underlying SST. This study examines single- and multicore convective clouds separately to directly determine if a relationship exists between the size of convective clouds, their precipitation, and the underlying SSTs. In doing so, this study addresses some of the criticisms of the Lindzen et al. study by eliminating their more controversial method of relating bulk changes of cloud amount and SST across a large domain in the Tropics. The current analysis does not show any significant SST dependence of the ratio of cloud area to surface rainfall for deep convection in the tropical western and central Pacific. Results do, however, suggest that SST plays an important role in the ratio of cloud area and surface rainfall for warm rain processes. For clouds with brightness temperatures between 270 and 280 K, a net decrease in cloud area normalized by rainfall of 5% per degree SST was found.

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Trent W. Ford, Anita D. Rapp, and Steven M. Quiring

Abstract

Soil moisture is an integral part of the climate system and can drive land–atmosphere interactions through the partitioning of latent and sensible heat. Soil moisture feedback to precipitation has been documented in several regions of the world, most notably in the southern Great Plains. However, the impact of soil moisture on precipitation, particularly at short (subdaily) time scales, has not been resolved. Here, in situ soil moisture observations and satellite-based precipitation estimates are used to examine if afternoon precipitation falls preferentially over wet or dry soils in Oklahoma. Afternoon precipitation events during the warm season (May–September) in Oklahoma from 2003 and 2012 are categorized by how favorable atmospheric conditions are for convection, as well as the presence or absence of the Great Plains low-level jet. The results show afternoon precipitation falls preferentially over wet soils when the Great Plains low-level jet is absent. In contrast, precipitation falls preferentially over dry soils when the low-level jet is present. Humidity (temperature) is increased (decreased) as soil moisture increases for all conditions, and convective available potential energy prior to convection is strongest when atmospheric humidity is above normal. The results do not demonstrate a causal link between soil moisture and precipitation, but they do suggest that soil moisture feedback to precipitation could potentially manifest itself over wetter- and drier-than-normal soils, depending on the overall synoptic and dynamic conditions.

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Tong Ren, Anita D. Rapp, Shaima L. Nasiri, John R. Mecikalski, and Jason Apke

Abstract

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aerosol optical depth (AOD) retrievals from the Terra and Aqua satellites currently provide the largest satellite aerosol dataset for investigating relationships to meteorological phenomena, such as aerosol impact on electrification in deep convection. The usefulness of polar-orbiting satellite aerosol retrievals in lightning inference is examined by correlating MODIS AOD retrievals with lightning observations of the thunderstorms in the summers during 2002–14 over northern Alabama. Lightning flashes during the 1400–1700 local standard time peak period show weak but positive correlations with the MODIS AOD retrievals 2–4 h earlier. The correlation becomes stronger in particular meteorological conditions, including weak vertical wind shear and prevailing northerly winds over northern Alabama. Results show that the MODIS AOD retrievals are less useful in predicting enhanced lightning flash rate for lightning-producing storms than the forecasts of other meteorological variables that are more closely linked to the intensification of convective storms. However, when relatively weaker convective available potential energy (CAPE) is forecast, the probability of enhanced lightning flash rate increases in a more polluted environment, making the knowledge of aerosols more useful in lightning inference in such CAPE regimes. The aerosol enhancement of lightning, if present, may be associated with enhanced convergence in the boundary layer and secondary convection.

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Anita D. Rapp, Alexander G. Peterson, Oliver W. Frauenfeld, Steven M. Quiring, and E. Brendan Roark

Abstract

Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Precipitation Radar precipitation features are analyzed to understand the role of storm characteristics on the seasonal and diurnal cycles of precipitation in four distinct regions in Costa Rica. The distribution of annual rainfall is highly dependent on the stratiform precipitation, driven largely by seasonal increases in stratiform area. The monthly distribution of stratiform rain is bimodal in most regions, but the timing varies regionally and is related to several important large-scale features: the Caribbean low-level jet, the ITCZ, and the Chorro del Occidente Colombiano (CHOCO) jet. The relative importance of convective precipitation increases on the Caribbean side during wintertime cold air surges. Except for the coastal Caribbean domain, most regions show a strong diurnal cycle with an afternoon peak in convection followed by an evening increase in stratiform rain. Along the Caribbean coast, the diurnal cycle is weaker, with evidence of convection associated with the sea breeze, as well as a nocturnal increase in storms. The behavior of extreme precipitation features with rain volume in the 99th percentile is also analyzed. They are most frequent from May to November, with notable differences between features at the beginning/end of the rainy season versus those in the middle, as well as between wet and dry seasons. Convective rain exceeds stratiform in winter and midsummer extreme features, while stratiform rain is larger at the beginning and end of the wet season. Given projected changes in precipitation and extreme events in Costa Rica for future climate change scenarios, the results indicate the importance of understanding both changes in total precipitation and in the storm characteristics.

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Lu Sun, Anita D. Rapp, Tristan S. L’Ecuyer, Anne S. Daloz, and Ethan Nelson

Abstract

Understanding the connections between latent heating from precipitation and cloud radiative effects is essential for accurately parameterizing cross-scale links between cloud microphysics and global energy and water cycles in climate models. Although commonly examined separately, this study adopts two cloud impact parameters (CIPs), the surface radiative cooling efficiency Rc and atmospheric radiative heating efficiency Rh, that explicitly couple cloud radiative effects and precipitation to characterize how efficiently precipitating cloud systems influence the energy budget and water cycle using A-Train observations and two reanalyses. These CIPs exhibit distinct global distributions that suggest cloud energy and water cycle coupling are highly dependent on cloud regime. The dynamic regime ω 500 controls the sign of Rh, whereas column water vapor (CWV) appears to be the larger control on the magnitude. The magnitude of Rc is highly coupled to the dynamic regime. Observations show that clouds cool the surface very efficiently per unit rainfall at both low and high sea surface temperature (SST) and CWV, but reanalyses only capture the former. Reanalyses fail to simulate strong Rh and moderate Rc in deep convection environments but produce stronger Rc and Rh than observations in shallow, warm rain systems in marine stratocumulus regions. Although reanalyses generate fairly similar climatologies in the frequency of environmental states, the response of Rc and Rh to SST and CWV results in systematic differences in zonal and meridional gradients of cloud atmospheric heating and surface cooling relative to A-Train observations that may have significant implications for global circulations and cloud feedbacks.

Significance Statement

Studying climate change requires understanding coupled interactions between clouds, precipitation, and their environment. Here we calculate two parameters to reveal how efficiently clouds can heat the atmosphere or cool the surface per unit rain. The satellite observations and reanalyses show similar global patterns, but there are some differences in areas of deep convection and low cloud regions. Examination of these parameters as a function of their environment shows that reanalyses cool the atmosphere too much per unit rain in environments with low sea surface temperatures and water vapor. Vertical velocity determines whether clouds heat or cool the atmosphere. Both observations and reanalyses suggest that water vapor is the stronger control on how much clouds heat the atmosphere per unit rain.

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Kai-Wei Chang, Kenneth P. Bowman, Leong Wai Siu, and Anita D. Rapp

Abstract

In the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS), large-scale anticyclones associated with monsoons play major roles in tropospheric and stratospheric transport and mixing. To understand the forcing of the North American monsoon anticyclone (NAMA), this study examines the connection between precipitation over the tropics and subtropics of the North American longitude sector and the variability of the troposphere and lower stratosphere. Using ERA5 and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) data from 1979 to 2019, we assess the relationship at the intraseasonal time scale using pentad-mean time series. We show that OLR anomalies are correlated with circulation anomalies northwest and northeast of the region of precipitation. Decreased OLR (increased precipitation) corresponds to increased geopotential heights and anticyclonic circulation anomalies in the 300–100-hPa layer and an opposite response in the lower-tropospheric 850–600-hPa layer. The results are consistent with the established theory of the Rossby wave response to latent heating. The increase in height, which is strongest near 150 hPa, indicates that increased precipitation is associated with a strengthened NAMA. UTLS temperatures also have significant correlations with OLR, with cold (warm) anomalies occurring above (below) the core of the anticyclonic anomaly consistent with large-scale balance. The vertical structure of geopotential and temperature anomalies is compared to simulations using an idealized general circulation model, which shows that such a vertical structure is a consistent response to diabatic heating. Correlations at the interannual time scale resemble those at the intraseasonal time scale, demonstrating that precipitation is related to the NAMA at both time scales.

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