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Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

Cloud-resolving numerical simulations of airflow over a diurnally heated mountain ridge are conducted to explore the mechanisms and sensitivities of convective initiation under high pressure conditions. The simulations are based on a well-observed convection event from the Convective and Orographically Induced Precipitation Study (COPS) during summer 2007, where an isolated afternoon thunderstorm developed over the Black Forest mountains of central Europe, but they are idealized to facilitate understanding and reduce computational expense.

In the conditionally unstable but strongly inhibited flow under consideration, sharp horizontal convergence over the mountain acts to locally weaken the inhibition and moisten the dry midtroposphere through shallow cumulus detrainment. The onset of deep convection occurs not through the deep ascent of a single updraft but rather through a rapid succession of thermals that are vented through the mountain convergence zone into the deepening cloud mass. Emerging thermals rise through the saturated wakes of their predecessors, which diminishes the suppressive effects of entrainment and allows for rapid glaciation above the freezing level as supercooled cloud drops rime onto preexisting ice particles. These effects strongly enhance the midlevel cloud buoyancy and enable rapid ascent to the tropopause. The existence and vigor of the convection is highly sensitive to small changes in background wind speed U 0, which controls the strength of the mountain convergence and the ability of midlevel moisture to accumulate above the mountain. Whereas vigorous deep convection develops for U 0 = 0 m s−1, deep convection is completely eliminated for U 0 = 3 m s−1. Although deep convection is able to develop under intermediate winds (U 0 = 1.5 m s−1), its formation is highly sensitive to small-amplitude perturbations in the initial flow.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

A combination of analytical and numerical models is used to gain insight into the dynamics of thermally forced circulations over diurnally heated terrain. Solutions are obtained for two-layer flows (representing the boundary layer and the overlying free troposphere) over an isolated mountainlike heat source. A scaling based on the linearized Boussinesq system of equations is developed to quantify the strength of thermally forced updrafts and to identify three flow regimes, each with distinct dynamics and parameter sensitivities. This scaling closely matches corresponding numerical simulations in two of these regimes: the first characterized by a weakly stable boundary layer and significant background winds and the second by a strongly stable boundary layer. In the third regime, characterized by weak winds and weak boundary layer stability, this scaling is outperformed by a fundamentally different scaling based on thermodynamic heat engines. Within this regime, the inability of wind ventilation or static stability to diminish the buoyancy over the heat source leads to intense updrafts that are controlled by nonlinear dynamics. These nonlinearities create a positive feedback loop between the thermal forcing and vorticity that rapidly strengthens the circulation and contracts its central updraft into a narrow core. As the circulation intensifies under daytime heating, the warmest surface-based air is ventilated into the upper boundary layer, where it spreads laterally to occupy a broader area and, ultimately, restrain the circulation strength. The success demonstrated herein of simple theoretical models at predicting key aspects of thermally forced circulations offers hope for improved parameterization of related processes (e.g., convection initiation and aerosol venting) in large-scale models.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

Idealized simulations are used to determine the sensitivity of moist orographic convection to horizontal grid spacing Δh. In simulated mechanically (MECH) and thermally (THERM) forced convection over an isolated ridge, Δh is varied systematically over both the deep-convection (Δh ~ 10–1 km) and turbulence (Δh ~ 1 km–100 m) gray zones. To aid physical interpretation, a new parcel-based bulk entrainment/detrainment diagnosis for horizontally heterogeneous flows is developed. Within the deep-convection gray zone, the Δh sensitivity is dominated by differences in parameterized versus explicit convection; the former initiates convection too far upstream of the ridge (MECH) and too early in the diurnal heating cycle (THERM). These errors stem in part from a large underprediction of parameterized entrainment and detrainment. Within the turbulence gray zone, sensitivities to Δh arise from the representation of both subcloud- and cloud-layer turbulence. As Δh is decreased, MECH exhibits stronger cloud-layer entrainment to enhance the convective mass flux M co, while THERM exhibits stronger detrainment to suppress M co and delay convection initiation. The latter is reinforced by increased subcloud turbulence at smaller Δh, which leads to drying and diffusion of the central updraft responsible for initiating moist convection. Numerical convergence to a robust solution occurs only in THERM, which develops a fully turbulent flow with a resolved inertial subrange (for Δh ≤ 250 m). In MECH, by contrast, turbulent transition occurs within the orographic cloud, the details of which depend on both physical location and Δh.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

Large-eddy simulations are conducted to investigate and physically interpret the impacts of heterogeneous, low terrain on deep-convection initiation (CI). The simulations are based on a case of shallow-to-deep convective transition over the Amazon River basin, and use idealized terrains with varying levels of ruggedness. The terrain is designed by specifying its power-spectral shape in wavenumber space, inverting to physical space assuming random phases for all wave modes, and scaling the terrain to have a peak height of 200 m. For the case in question, these modest terrain fields expedite CI by up to 2–3 h, largely due to the impacts of the terrain on the size of, and subcloud support for, incipient cumuli. Terrain-induced circulations enhance subcloud kinetic energy on the mesoscale, which is realized as wider and longer-lived subcloud circulations. When the updraft branches of these circulations breach the level of free convection, they initiate wider and more persistent cumuli that subsequently undergo less entrainment-induced cloud dilution and detrainment-induced mass loss. As a result, the clouds become more vigorous and penetrate deeper into the troposphere. Larger-scale terrains are more effective than smaller-scale terrains in promoting CI because they induce larger enhancements in both the width and the persistence of subcloud updrafts.

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Daniel Tootill and Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

The predictability of precipitation type in a January 2017 winter storm over the northeast US and southeast Canada is examined using a convective-scale initial-condition ensemble with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Real-time forecasts of the event by Environment and Climate Change Canada predicted 15-25 cm of snow accumulation in Montreal, Quebec. However, the initial 4 h of the event saw 5-8 mm of freezing rain instead, followed by 7 cm of snow. While the total liquid-equivalent precipitation was consistent with the forecast, the unexpected freezing rain caused significant disruption in the Montreal region. The fraction of freezing precipitation (freezing rain and/or ice pellets) over the initial 4 h in Montreal varied greatly across the ensemble, with some members producing nearly all snow and others producing nearly all freezing precipitation. In members with larger fractions of freezing precipitation (as opposed to snow), the cyclone’s midlevel trough was displaced slightly to the northwest, and its downstream (eastern) edge was narrower, the latter of which was traced back to model initialization. These differences increased the midlevel southerly flow into southern Quebec, which both enhanced the horizontal warm advection and decreased the vertical cold advection leading up to the event. The consequent midlevel warming over Montreal in these members produced an above-zero layer that melted falling precipitation, leading to freezing upon contact with the ground. This case study highlights the value of convective-scale ensembles for identifying mechanisms by which initial, synoptic-scale uncertainties lead to high-impact, localized errors in precipitation type.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum and Katia Lamer

Abstract

Cumulus entrainment is a complex process that has long challenged conceptual understanding and atmospheric prediction. To investigate this process observationally, two retrievals are used to generate multiyear climatologies of shallow-cumulus bulk entrainment (ϵ) at two Atmospheric Radiation Measurement cloud observatories, one in the U.S. Southern Great Plains (SGP) and the other in the Azores archipelago in the eastern North Atlantic (ENA). The statistical distributions of ϵ thus obtained, as well as certain environmental and cloud-related sensitivities of ϵ, are consistent with previous findings from large-eddy simulations. The retrieved ϵ robustly increases with cloud-layer relative humidity and decreases in wider clouds and cloud ensembles with larger cloud-base mass fluxes. While ϵ also correlates negatively with measures of cloud-layer vigor (e.g., maximum in-cloud vertical velocity and cloud depth), the extent to which these metrics actually regulate ϵ (or vice versa) is unclear. Novel sensitivities of ϵ include a robust decrease of ϵ with increasing subcloud wind speed in oceanic flows, as well as a decrease of ϵ with increasing cloud-base mass flux in individual cumuli. A strong land–ocean contrast in ϵ is also found, with median values of 0.5–0.6 km−1 at the continental SGP site and 1.0–1.1 km−1 at the oceanic ENA site. This trend is associated with drier and deeper cloud layers, along with larger cloud-base mass fluxes, at SGP, all of which favor reduced ϵ. The flow dependence of retrieved ϵ implies that its various sensitivities should be accounted for in cumulus parameterization schemes.

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Michael Kovacs and Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

Observations and numerical simulations reveal pronounced mesoscale variability in deep-convection occurrence over southern Quebec, Canada. A 22-yr climatology from the McGill radar just west of Montreal shows that deep-convection maxima exist (i) within the St. Lawrence valley surrounding Ottawa; (ii) within the Champlain valley of upstate New York, extending north to just east of Montreal; and (iii) in the lee of the Laurentian Mountains northeast of Trois-Rivières. These features are sensitive to the background low- to midlevel geostrophic wind direction, shifting northward as the southerly wind component increases. A meridional axis of suppressed convection also extends from Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks of New York north through Montreal and into the Laurentians. To physically interpret these features, a suite of quasi-idealized convection-permitting simulations is conducted. Analysis of the simulations, which broadly reproduce the observed extrema in convection occurrence, reveals that the maxima develop within pockets of moisture and mass convergence at the junctions of major river valleys and in the lee of prominent mountain ridges. In these locations, enhanced boundary layer humidity and convective available potential energy (CAPE) coincides with minimal convective inhibition (CIN). The minima occur over and downwind of water bodies, where limited surface heat fluxes reduce CAPE and increase CIN, and over the higher terrain, where reduced low-level moisture limits storm intensity.

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David J. Purnell and Daniel J. Kirshbaum

Abstract

The synoptic controls on orographic precipitation during the Olympics Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) are investigated using observations and numerical simulations. Observational precipitation retrievals for six warm-frontal (WF), six warm-sector (WS), and six postfrontal (PF) periods indicate that heavy precipitation occurred in both WF and WS periods, but the latter saw larger orographic enhancements. Such enhancements extended well upstream of the terrain in WF periods but were focused over the windward slopes in both PF and WS periods. Quasi-idealized simulations, constrained by OLYMPEX data, reproduce the key synoptic sensitivities of the OLYMPEX precipitation distributions and thus facilitate physical interpretation. These sensitivities are largely explained by three upstream parameters: the large-scale precipitation rate , the impinging horizontal moisture flux I, and the low-level static stability. Both WF and WS events exhibit large and I, and thus, heavy orographic precipitation, which is greatly enhanced in amplitude and areal extent by the seeder–feeder process. However, the stronger stability of the WF periods, particularly within the frontal inversion (even when it lies above crest level), causes their precipitation enhancement to weaken and shift upstream. In contrast, the small and I, larger static stability, and absence of stratiform feeder clouds in the nominally unsaturated and convective PF events yield much lighter time- and area-averaged precipitation. Modest enhancements still occur over the windward slopes due to the local development and invigoration of shallow convective showers.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum and Dale R. Durran

Abstract

The development of shallow cellular convection in warm orographic clouds is investigated through idealized numerical simulations of moist flow over topography using a cloud-resolving numerical model. Buoyant instability, a necessary element for moist convection, is found to be diagnosed most accurately through analysis of the moist Brunt–Väisälä frequency (N m) rather than the vertical profile of θ e. In statically unstable orographic clouds (N2m < 0), additional environmental and terrain-related factors are shown to have major effects on the amount of cellularity that occurs in 2D simulations. One of these factors, the basic-state wind shear, may suppress convection in 2D yet allow for longitudinal convective roll circulations in 3D. The presence of convective structures within an orographic cloud substantially enhanced the maximum rainfall rates, precipitation efficiencies, and precipitation accumulations in all simulations.

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Daniel J. Kirshbaum and Dale R. Durran

Abstract

Radar images and numerical simulations of three shallow convective precipitation events over the Coastal Range in western Oregon are presented. In one of these events, unusually well-defined quasi-stationary banded formations produced large precipitation enhancements in favored locations, while varying degrees of band organization and lighter precipitation accumulations occurred in the other two cases. The difference between the more banded and cellular cases appeared to depend on the vertical shear within the orographic cap cloud and the susceptibility of the flow to convection upstream of the mountain. Numerical simulations showed that the rainbands, which appeared to be shear-parallel convective roll circulations that formed within the unstable orographic cap cloud, developed even over smooth mountains. However, these banded structures were better organized, more stationary, and produced greater precipitation enhancement over mountains with small-scale topographic obstacles. Low-amplitude random topographic roughness elements were found to be just as effective as more prominent subrange-scale peaks at organizing and fixing the location of the orographic rainbands.

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