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Kenneth D. Leppert II and Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

It has been hypothesized that intense convective-scale “hot” towers play a role in tropical cyclogenesis via dynamic and thermodynamic feedbacks on the larger-scale circulation. In this study the authors investigate the role that widespread and/or intense lightning-producing convection (i.e., electrically hot towers) present in African easterly waves (AEWs) may play in tropical cyclogenesis over the east Atlantic Ocean.

The 700-hPa meridional wind from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis dataset was analyzed to divide the waves into northerly, southerly, trough, and ridge phases. The AEWs were subsequently divided into waves that developed into tropical storms (i.e., developing) and those that did not develop into tropical storms (i.e., nondeveloping). Finally, composites were created using various NCEP variables, lightning data gathered with the Zeus network and worldwide lightning location network (WWLLN), and brightness temperature data extracted from the NASA global-merged infrared brightness temperature dataset.

Results indicate that in all regions examined the developing waves seem to be associated with more widespread and/or intense lightning-producing convection. This increased convection associated with the developing waves might be related to the increased midlevel moisture, low-level vorticity, low-level convergence, upper-level divergence, and increased upward vertical motion found to be associated with the developing waves. In addition, the phasing of the convection with the AEWs as they move from East Africa to the central Atlantic shows some variability, which may have implications for tropical cyclogenesis.

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Steven A. Rutledge and Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

This study presents further evidence in support of an in situ, noninductive charging mechanism as the process likely responsible for significant electrification of the trailing stratiform regions of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). In contrast to previous studies of MCS electrification that have investigated observations of radar reflectivity and cloud-to-ground lightning in the horizontal (e.g., Orville et al.; Rutledge et al.), here the relationship between the location and occurrence of cloud-to-ground lightning in the stratiform regions of midlatitude and tropical MCSs and the vertical profile of radar reflectivity are examined. The vertical profile of radar reflectivity at elevations above the 0°C level is used as a proxy for the amount of mass present in the mixed-phase region of the stratiform clouds, which in turn is related to the generation of charge through a noninductive charging mechanism.

To further explore the relationship between radar reflectivity, mixed-phase microphysics, and in situ charging by means of a noninductive mechanism, we present calculations with a simple one-dimensional model used to diagnose the presence of supercooled liquid water between the 0° and −20°C levels in the stratiform region. We use the model to contrast two cases: 1) a case in which reflectivities greater than 15 dBZ existed above the 0°C level in the stratiform clouds, cloud-to-ground lightning occurred, and moderate amounts of supercooled liquid water were present in the stratiform region (as inferred from the model results); 2) a case where no lightning was observed in the stratiform region, reflectivities above the 0°C level were less than 15 dBZ, and very little supercooled water was present (as inferred from the model results). Based on observations in several MCSs, we show that the number of cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the stratiform region is highly correlated with the vertical radar reflectivity profile.

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Andrew L. Molthan and Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

The Canadian CloudSat/Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) Validation Project (C3VP) was designed to acquire aircraft, surface, and satellite observations of particle size distributions during cold season precipitation events for the purposes of validating and improving upon satellite-based retrievals of precipitation and the representation of cloud and precipitation processes within numerical weather prediction schemes. During an intensive observation period on 22 January 2007, an instrumented aircraft measured ice crystal size distributions, ice and liquid water contents, and atmospheric state parameters within a broad shield of precipitation generated by a passing midlatitude cyclone. The 94-GHz CloudSat radar acquired vertical profiles of radar reflectivity within light to moderate snowfall, coincident with C3VP surface and aircraft instrumentation. Satellite-based retrievals of cold season precipitation require relationships between remotely sensed quantities, such as radar reflectivity or brightness temperature, and the ice water content present within the sampled profile.

In this study, three methods for simulating CloudSat radar reflectivity are investigated by comparing Mie spheres, single dendrites, and fractal aggregates represented within scattering databases or parameterizations. It is demonstrated that calculations of radar backscatter from nonspherical crystal shapes are required to represent the vertical trend in CloudSat radar reflectivity for this particular event, as Mie resonance effects reduce the radar backscatter from precipitation-sized particles larger than 1 mm. Remaining differences between reflectivity from nonspherical shapes and observations are attributed to uncertainty in the mass–diameter relationships for observed crystals and disparities between naturally occurring crystals and shapes assumed in the development of ice crystal scattering databases and parameterizations.

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Lawrence D. Carey and Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

Estimating raindrop size has been a long-standing objective of polarimetric radar–based precipitation retrieval methods. The relationship between the differential reflectivity Z dr and the median volume diameter D 0 is typically derived empirically using raindrop size distribution observations from a disdrometer, a raindrop physical model, and a radar scattering model. Because disdrometers are known to undersample large raindrops, the maximum drop diameter D max is often an assumed parameter in the rain physical model. C-band Z dr is sensitive to resonance scattering at drop diameters larger than 5 mm, which falls in the region of uncertainty for D max. Prior studies have not accounted for resonance scattering at C band and D max uncertainty in assessing potential errors in drop size retrievals. As such, a series of experiments are conducted that evaluate the effect of D max parameterization on the retrieval error of D 0 from a fourth-order polynomial function of C-band Z dr by varying the assumed D max through the range of assumptions found in the literature. Normalized bias errors for estimating D 0 from C-band Z dr range from −8% to 15%, depending on the postulated error in D max. The absolute normalized bias error increases with C-band Z dr, can reach 10% for Z dr as low as 1–1.75 dB, and can increase from there to values as large as 15%–45% for larger Z dr, which is a larger potential bias error than is found at S and X band. Uncertainty in D max assumptions and the associated potential D 0 retrieval errors should be noted and accounted for in future C-band polarimetric radar studies.

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Jackson Tan, Walter A. Petersen, and Ali Tokay

Abstract

The comparison of satellite and high-quality, ground-based estimates of precipitation is an important means to assess the confidence in satellite-based algorithms and to provide a benchmark for their continued development and future improvement. To these ends, it is beneficial to identify sources of estimation uncertainty, thereby facilitating a precise understanding of the origins of the problem. This is especially true for new datasets such as the Integrated Multisatellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) product, which provides global precipitation gridded at a high resolution using measurements from different sources and techniques. Here, IMERG is evaluated against a dense network of gauges in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. A novel approach is presented, leveraging ancillary variables in IMERG to attribute the errors to the individual instruments or techniques within the algorithm. As a whole, IMERG exhibits some misses and false alarms for rain detection, while its rain-rate estimates tend to overestimate drizzle and underestimate heavy rain with considerable random error. Tracing the errors to their sources, the most reliable IMERG estimates come from passive microwave satellites, which in turn exhibit a hierarchy of performance. The morphing technique has comparable proficiency with the less skillful satellites, but infrared estimations perform poorly. The approach here demonstrated that, underlying the overall reasonable performance of IMERG, different sources have different reliability, thus enabling both IMERG users and developers to better recognize the uncertainty in the estimate. Future validation efforts are urged to adopt such a categorization to bridge between gridded rainfall and instantaneous satellite estimates.

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Walter A. Petersen and Steven A. Rutledge

Abstract

Observation of the vertical profile of precipitation over the global Tropics is a key objective of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) because this information is central to obtaining vertical profiles of latent heating. This study combines both TRMM precipitation radar (PR) and Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) data to examine “wet-season” vertical structures of tropical precipitation across a broad spectrum of locations in the global Tropics. TRMM-PR reflectivity data (2A25 algorithm) were utilized to produce seasonal mean three-dimensional relative frequency histograms and precipitation ice water contents over grid boxes of approximately 5°–10° in latitude and longitude. The reflectivity histograms and ice water contents were then combined with LIS lightning flash densities and 2A25 mean rainfall rates to examine regional relationships between precipitation vertical structure, precipitation processes, and lightning production.

Analysis of the reflectivity vertical structure histograms and lightning flash density data reveals that 1) relative to tropical continental locations, wet-season isolated tropical oceanic locations exhibit relatively little spatial (and in some instances seasonal) variability in vertical structure across the global Tropics; 2) coastal locations and areas located within 500–1000 km of a continent exhibit considerable seasonal and spatial variability in mean vertical structure, often resembling “continental” profiles or falling intermediate to that of tropical continental and isolated oceanic regimes; and 3) interior tropical continental locations exhibit marked variability in vertical structure both spatially and seasonally, exhibiting a continuum of characteristics ranging from a near-isolated oceanic profile observed over the central Amazon and India to a more robust continental profile observed over regions such as the Congo and Florida. Examination of regional and seasonal mean conditional instability for a small but representative subset of the geographic locations suggests that tropospheric thermodynamic structure likely plays a significant role in the regional characteristics of precipitation vertical structure and associated lightning flash density.

In general, the largest systematic variability in precipitation vertical structure observed between all of the locations examined occurred above the freezing level. It is important that subfreezing temperature variability in the vertical reflectivity structures was well reflected in the seasonal mean lightning flash densities and ice water contents diagnosed for each location. In turn, systematically larger rainfall rates were observed on a pixel-by-pixel basis in locations with larger precipitation ice water content and lightning flash density. These results delineate, in a regional sense, the relative importance of mixed-phase precipitation production across the global Tropics.

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Walter A. Petersen, Rong Fu, Mingxuan Chen, and Richard Blakeslee

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This study focuses on modulation of lightning and convective vertical structure in the southern Amazon as a function of the South American monsoon V index (VI). Four wet seasons (December–March 1998–2001) of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) and Precipitation Radar (PR) data are examined together with two wet seasons (2000–01) of ground-based Brazilian Lightning Detection Network (BLDN) data. These observations are composited by VI phase (northerly or southerly) for a region of the southern Amazon and discussed relative to VI-regime environmental characteristics such as thermodynamic instability and wind shear.

Relative comparisons of VI-regime convective properties reveal 1) slightly larger (20%–25%) PR pixel-mean rainfall during periods of northerly VI due to increased stratiform precipitation, 2) a factor of 2 or more increase in lightning flash density and the lightning diurnal cycle amplitude during periods of southerly VI, 3) a factor of 1.5–2 increase in the conditional probability of any PR radar reflectivity pixel exceeding 30 dBZ above the −10°C level during periods of southerly VI, and 4) an associated factor of 2 or more increase in southerly VI pixel-mean ice water path, with the ice water path being highly correlated to trends in lightning activity. During periods of southerly VI, convection occurs in an environment of increased thermodynamic instability, weak southeasterly low-level, and deep upper-tropospheric easterly wind shear. During periods of northerly VI, low-level westerly shear opposes stronger deep tropospheric easterly shear in a relatively moist environment of weaker thermodynamic instability, consistent with the occurrence of more widespread stratiform precipitation.

The composite results of this study point to 1) regime differences in convective forcing that alter the prevalence of ice processes and, by inference, the vertical profile of latent heating and 2) the utility of lightning observations in delineating convective regime changes.

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Robert Cifelli, Lawrence Carey, Walter A. Petersen, and Steven A. Rutledge

Abstract

Dual-Doppler radar data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Large Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (TRMM-LBA) field campaign are used to determine characteristic kinematic and reflectivity vertical structures associated with precipitation features observed during the wet season in the southwest region of Amazonia. Case studies of precipitating systems during TRMM-LBA as well as overarching satellite studies have shown large differences in convective intensity associated with changes that develop in low-level easterly flow [east regime (ER)] and westerly flow [west regime (WR)]. This study attempts to examine the vertical kinematic and heating structure of convection across the spectrum of precipitation features that occurred in each regime.

Results show that convection in the ER is characterized by more intense updrafts and larger radar reflectivities above the melting level, in agreement with results from lightning detection networks. These regime differences are consistent with contrasts in composite thermal buoyancy between the regimes: above the boundary layer, the environment in the ER is characterized by a greater virtual temperature excess for near-surface rising parcels. Both regimes showed a peak in intensity during the late afternoon hours, as evidenced by radar reflectivity and kinematic characteristics, consistent with previous studies of rainfall and lightning in the Rondônia (TRMM-LBA) region. After sunset, however, convective intensity in the WR decreases much more abruptly compared to the ER. In the stratiform–weak convective region, the ER showed both reflectivity and kinematic characteristics of classic stratiform structure after sunset through the early morning hours, consistent with the life cycle of mesoscale conjective systems (MCSs). Apparent heating (Q 1) profiles were constructed for each regime assuming the vertical advection of dry static energy was the dominant forcing term. The resulting profiles show a peak centered near 8 km in the convective regions of both regimes, although the ER has a broader maximum compared to the WR. The breadth of the ER diabatic heating peak is consistent with the more dominant role of ice processes in ER convection.

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Jackson Tan, Walter A. Petersen, Pierre-Emmanuel Kirstetter, and Yudong Tian

Abstract

The Integrated Multisatellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG), a global high-resolution gridded precipitation dataset, will enable a wide range of applications, ranging from studies on precipitation characteristics to applications in hydrology to evaluation of weather and climate models. These applications focus on different spatial and temporal scales and thus average the precipitation estimates to coarser resolutions. Such a modification of scale will impact the reliability of IMERG. In this study, the performance of the Final Run of IMERG is evaluated against ground-based measurements as a function of increasing spatial resolution (from 0.1° to 2.5°) and accumulation periods (from 0.5 to 24 h) over a region in the southeastern United States. For ground reference, a product derived from the Multi-Radar/Multi-Sensor suite, a radar- and gauge-based operational precipitation dataset, is used. The TRMM Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) is also included as a benchmark. In general, both IMERG and TMPA improve when scaled up to larger areas and longer time periods, with better identification of rain occurrences and consistent improvements in systematic and random errors of rain rates. Between the two satellite estimates, IMERG is slightly better than TMPA most of the time. These results will inform users on the reliability of IMERG over the scales relevant to their studies.

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Dennis J. Boccippio, Walter A. Petersen, and Daniel J. Cecil

Abstract

A taxonomy of tropical convective and stratiform vertical structures is constructed through cluster analysis of 3 yr of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) “warm-season” (surface temperature greater than 10°C) precipitation radar (PR) vertical profiles, their surface rainfall, and associated radar-based classifiers (convective/stratiform and brightband existence). Twenty-five archetypal profile types are identified, including nine convective types, eight stratiform types, two mixed types, and six anvil/fragment types (nonprecipitating anvils and sheared deep convective profiles). These profile types are then hierarchically clustered into 10 similar families, which can be further combined, providing an objective and physical reduction of the highly multivariate PR data space that retains vertical structure information. The taxonomy allows for description of any storm or local convective spectrum by the profile types or families. The analysis provides a quasi-independent corroboration of the TRMM 2A23 convective/stratiform classification. The global frequency of occurrence and contribution to rainfall for the profile types are presented, demonstrating primary rainfall contribution by midlevel glaciated convection (27%) and similar depth decaying/stratiform stages (28%–31%). Profiles of these types exhibit similar 37- and 85-GHz passive microwave brightness temperatures but differ greatly in their frequency of occurrence and mean rain rates, underscoring the importance to passive microwave rain retrieval of convective/stratiform discrimination by other means, such as polarization or texture techniques, or incorporation of lightning observations. Close correspondence is found between deep convective profile frequency and annualized lightning production, and pixel-level lightning occurrence likelihood directly tracks the estimated mean ice water path within profile types.

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