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Christopher E. Holloway and J. David Neelin

Abstract

To investigate dominant vertical structures of observed temperature perturbations, and to test the temperature implications of the convective quasi-equilibrium hypothesis, the relationship of the tropical temperature profile to the average free-tropospheric temperature is examined in Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) satellite data, radiosonde observations, and National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP–NCAR) reanalysis. The spatial scales analyzed extend from the entire Tropics down to a single reanalysis grid point or radiosonde station, with monthly to daily time scales. There is very high vertical coherence of free-tropospheric temperature perturbations. There is also fairly good agreement throughout the free troposphere between observations and a theoretical quasi-equilibrium perturbation profile calculated from a distribution of moist adiabats. The boundary layer is fairly independent from the free troposphere, especially for smaller scales.

A third vertical feature of the temperature perturbation profile is here termed the “convective cold top”—a robust negative correlation between temperature perturbations of the vertically averaged free troposphere and those of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The convective cold top is found for observations and reanalysis at many temporal and spatial scales. Given this prevalence, the literature is reviewed for previous examples of what is likely a single phenomenon. One simple explanation is proposed: hydrostatic pressure gradients from tropospheric warming extend above the heating, forcing ascent and adiabatic cooling. The negative temperature anomalies thus created are necessary for anomalous pressure gradients to diminish with height.

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Christopher E. Holloway and J. David Neelin

Abstract

The vertical structure of the relationship between water vapor and precipitation is analyzed in 5 yr of radiosonde and precipitation gauge data from the Nauru Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) site. The first vertical principal component of specific humidity is very highly correlated with column water vapor (CWV) and has a maximum of both total and fractional variance captured in the lower free troposphere (around 800 hPa). Moisture profiles conditionally averaged on precipitation show a strong association between rainfall and moisture variability in the free troposphere and little boundary layer variability. A sharp pickup in precipitation occurs near a critical value of CWV, confirming satellite-based studies. A lag–lead analysis suggests it is unlikely that the increase in water vapor is just a result of the falling precipitation. To investigate mechanisms for the CWV–precipitation relationship, entraining plume buoyancy is examined in sonde data and simplified cases. For several different mixing schemes, higher CWV results in progressively greater plume buoyancies, particularly in the upper troposphere, indicating conditions favorable for deep convection. All other things being equal, higher values of lower-tropospheric humidity, via entrainment, play a major role in this buoyancy increase. A small but significant increase in subcloud layer moisture with increasing CWV also contributes to buoyancy. Entrainment coefficients inversely proportional to distance from the surface, associated with mass flux increase through a deep lower-tropospheric layer, appear promising. These yield a relatively even weighting through the lower troposphere for the contribution of environmental water vapor to midtropospheric buoyancy, explaining the association of CWV and buoyancy available for deep convection.

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Christopher E. Holloway and J. David Neelin

Abstract

Empirical studies using satellite data and radiosondes have shown that precipitation increases with column water vapor (CWV) in the tropics, and that this increase is much steeper above some critical CWV value. Here, eight years of 1-min-resolution microwave radiometer and optical gauge data at Nauru Island are analyzed to better understand the relationships among CWV, column liquid water (CLW), and precipitation at small time scales. CWV is found to have large autocorrelation times compared with CLW and precipitation. Before precipitation events, CWV increases on both a synoptic-scale time period and a subsequent shorter time period consistent with mesoscale convective activity; the latter period is associated with the highest CWV levels. Probabilities of precipitation increase greatly with CWV. Given initial high CWV, this increased probability of precipitation persists at least 10–12 h. Even in periods of high CWV, however, probabilities of initial precipitation in a 5-min period remain low enough that there tends to be a lag before the start of the next precipitation event. This is consistent with precipitation occurring stochastically within environments containing high CWV, with the latter being established by a combination of synoptic-scale and mesoscale forcing.

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Christopher E. Holloway, Steven J. Woolnough, and Grenville M. S. Lister

Abstract

High-resolution simulations over a large tropical domain (~20°S–20°N, 42°E–180°) using both explicit and parameterized convection are analyzed and compared during a 10-day case study of an active Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) event. In this paper, Part II of this study, the moisture budgets and moist entropy budgets are analyzed. Vertical subgrid diabatic heating profiles and vertical velocity profiles are also compared; these are related to the horizontal and vertical advective components of the moist entropy budget, which contribute to gross moist stability (GMS) and normalized GMS (NGMS). The 4-km model with explicit convection and good MJO performance has a vertical heating structure that increases with height in the lower troposphere in regions of strong convection (like observations), whereas the 12-km model with parameterized convection and a poor MJO does not show this relationship. The 4-km explicit convection model also has a more top-heavy heating profile for the troposphere as a whole near and to the west of the active MJO-related convection, unlike the 12-km parameterized convection model. The dependence of entropy advection components on moisture convergence is fairly weak in all models, and differences between models are not always related to MJO performance, making comparisons to previous work somewhat inconclusive. However, models with relatively good MJO strength and propagation have a slightly larger increase of the vertical advective component with increasing moisture convergence, and their NGMS vertical terms have more variability in time and longitude, with total NGMS that is comparatively larger to the west and smaller to the east.

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Christopher E. Holloway, Steven J. Woolnough, and Grenville M. S. Lister

Abstract

High-resolution simulations over a large tropical domain (~20°S–20°N, 42°E–180°) using both explicit and parameterized convection are analyzed and compared to observations during a 10-day case study of an active Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) event. The parameterized convection model simulations at both 40- and 12-km grid spacing have a very weak MJO signal and little eastward propagation. A 4-km explicit convection simulation using Smagorinsky subgrid mixing in the vertical and horizontal dimensions exhibits the best MJO strength and propagation speed. Explicit convection simulations at 12 km also perform much better than the 12-km parameterized convection run, suggesting that the convection scheme, rather than horizontal resolution, is key for these MJO simulations. Interestingly, a 4-km explicit convection simulation using the conventional boundary layer scheme for vertical subgrid mixing (but still using Smagorinsky horizontal mixing) completely loses the large-scale MJO organization, showing that relatively high resolution with explicit convection does not guarantee a good MJO simulation. Models with a good MJO representation have a more realistic relationship between lower-free-tropospheric moisture and precipitation, supporting the idea that the moisture–convection feedback is a key process for MJO propagation. There is also increased generation of available potential energy and conversion of that energy into kinetic energy in models with a more realistic MJO, which is related to larger zonal variance in convective heating and vertical velocity, larger zonal temperature variance around 200 hPa, and larger correlations between temperature and ascent (and between temperature and diabatic heating) between 500 and 400 hPa.

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Michael C. Johnston, Christopher E. Holloway, and Robert S. Plant

Abstract

Cloud trails are primarily thermally forced bands of cloud that extend downwind of small islands. A novel algorithm to classify conventional geostationary visible-channel satellite images as cloud trail (CT), nontrail (NT), or obscured (OB) is defined. The algorithm is then applied to the warm season months of five years at Bermuda comprising 16 400 images. Bermuda’s low elevation and location make this island ideal for isolating the role of the island thermal contrast on CT formation. CTs are found to occur at Bermuda with an annual cycle, peaking in July, and a diurnal cycle that peaks in midafternoon. Composites of radiosonde observations and ERA-Interim data suggest that a warm and humid low-level environment is conducive for CT development. From a Lagrangian perspective, wind direction modulates CT formation by maximizing low-level heating on local scales when winds are parallel to the long axis of the island. On larger scales, low-level wind direction also controls low-level humidity through advection.

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Benjamin R. Lintner, Christopher E. Holloway, and J. David Neelin

Abstract

Relationships among relatively high-frequency probability distribution functions (pdfs) of anomalous column water vapor (cwv), precipitating deep convection, and the vertical and horizontal structures of circulation and tropospheric moisture are investigated for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) climate observing facility at Nauru in the western equatorial Pacific. At the highest frequencies (subdaily) analyzed, the cwv pdf exhibits a Gaussian core with pronounced longer-than-Gaussian, approximately exponential tails, with the relatively lower-frequency submonthly pdfs becoming more Gaussian distributed across the entire range of cwv variability. The genesis and morphology of the longer-than-Gaussian tails are examined within the context of several hypothetical mechanisms outlined in prior work. For example, pdf conditioning on ARM optical gauge precipitation measurements reveals an association of the positive-side tail with precipitating deep convective conditions; thus, despite the condensation and fallout of cwv during rainfall events, it is argued that updraft vertical motions associated with deep convection locally compensate the loss by increasing cwv. Using vertical moisture profiles from ARM radiosonde measurements, vertical structures of specific humidity anomalies associated with tail-regime cwv excursions are computed, with the negative cwv profile significantly departing from the mean profile in the lower free troposphere. Such behavior is consistent with local restorative surface evaporative forcing and turbulent mixing in the atmospheric boundary layer and drying of the column from above during descent conditions. Analysis of cwv variability with respect to the horizontal moisture structure, using gridded measurements from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Microwave Imager (TMI) and trajectories from the Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model driven by NCEP–NCAR reanalysis meteorology underscores how the horizontal and vertical components modulate Nauru cwv: in particular, high cwv conditions at Nauru are often associated with weakened low-level inflow from the dry regions to the east of Nauru and stronger along-trajectory ascent. Finally, comparison of the ARM-based pdfs to those estimated from the reanalysis illustrates how pdf-based diagnostics may be useful tools for model intercomparison and validation.

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Hirohiko Masunaga, Christopher E. Holloway, Hironari Kanamori, Sandrine Bony, and Thorwald H. M. Stein

Abstract

Convective self-aggregation is among the most striking features emerging from radiative–convective equilibrium simulations, but its relevance to convective disturbances observed in the real atmosphere remains under debate. This work seeks the observational signals of convective aggregation intrinsic to the life cycle of cloud clusters. To this end, composite time series of the Simple Convective Aggregation Index (SCAI), a metric of aggregation, and other variables from satellite measurements are constructed around the temporal maxima of precipitation. All the parameters analyzed are large-scale means over 10° × 10° domains. The composite evolution for heavy precipitation regimes shows that cloud clusters are gathered into fewer members during a period of ±12 h as precipitation picks up. The high-cloud cover per cluster expands as the number of clusters drops, suggesting a transient occurrence of convective aggregation. The sign of the transient aggregation is less evident or entirely absent in light precipitation regimes. An energy budget analysis is performed in search of the physical processes underlying the transient aggregation. The column moist static energy (MSE) accumulates before the precipitation peak and dissipates after, accounted for primarily by the horizontal MSE advection. The domain-averaged column radiative cooling is greater in a more aggregated composite than in a less aggregated one, although the role of radiative–convective feedback behind this remains unclear.

Open access
Mohd Fadzil Firdzaus Mohd Nor, Christopher E. Holloway, and Peter M. Inness

Abstract

Severe rainfall events are common in western Peninsular Malaysia. They are usually short and intense, and occasionally cause flash floods and landslides. Forecasting these local events is difficult and understanding the mechanisms of the rainfall events is vital for the advancement of tropical weather forecasting. This study investigates the mechanisms responsible for a local heavy rainfall event on 2 May 2012 that caused flash floods and landslides using both observations and simulations with the limited-area high-resolution Met Office Unified Model (MetUM). Results suggest that previous day rainfalls over Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra Island influenced the development of overnight rainfall over the Strait of Malacca by low-level flow convergence. Afternoon convection over the Titiwangsa Mountains over Peninsular Malaysia then induced rainfall development and the combination of these two events influenced the development of severe convective storm over western Peninsular Malaysia. Additionally, anomalously strong low-level northwesterlies also contributed to this event. Sensitivity studies were carried out to investigate the influence of the local orography on this event. Flattened Peninsular Malaysia orography causes a lack of rainfall over the central part of Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra Island and produces a weaker overnight rainfall over the Strait of Malacca. By removing Sumatra Island in the final experiment, the western and inland parts of Peninsular Malaysia would receive more rainfall, as this region is more influenced by the westerly wind from the Indian Ocean. These results suggest the importance of the interaction between landmasses, orography, low-level flow, and the diurnal cycle on the development of heavy rainfall events.

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Joshua Talib, Steven J. Woolnough, Nicholas P. Klingaman, and Christopher E. Holloway

Abstract

Studies have shown that the location and structure of the simulated intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is sensitive to the treatment of sub-gridscale convection and cloud–radiation interactions. This sensitivity remains in idealized aquaplanet experiments with fixed surface temperatures. However, studies have not considered the role of cloud-radiative effects (CRE; atmospheric heating due to cloud–radiation interactions) in the sensitivity of the ITCZ to the treatment of convection. We use an atmospheric energy input (AEI) framework to explore how the CRE modulates the sensitivity of the ITCZ to convective mixing in aquaplanet simulations. Simulations show a sensitivity of the ITCZ to convective mixing, with stronger convective mixing favoring a single ITCZ. For simulations with a single ITCZ, the CRE maintains the positive equatorial AEI. To explore the role of the CRE further, we prescribe the CRE as either zero or a meridionally and diurnally varying climatology. Removing the CRE is associated with a reduced equatorial AEI and an increase in the range of convective mixing rates that produce a double ITCZ. Prescribing the CRE reduces the sensitivity of the ITCZ to convective mixing by 50%. In prescribed-CRE simulations, other AEI components, in particular the surface latent heat flux, modulate the sensitivity of the AEI to convective mixing. Analysis of the meridional moist static energy transport shows that a shallower Hadley circulation can produce an equatorward energy transport at low latitudes even with equatorial ascent.

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