The dynamics of baroclinic wave growth in a saturated environment is examined using linear and nonlinear models employing a parameterization of latent heat release that assumes all rising air is saturated, and saturation equivalent potential temperature is conserved on ascent. Piecewise potential vorticity (PV) diagnostics are used to interpret the results.
When the stability to vertical displacements in saturated air is allowed to increase with height, as it must in an atmosphere with a constant, positive lapse rate of potential temperature, the growth rates of the most unstable modes of the Eady problem grow only marginally faster than the modes of the dry problem. The vertical variation of moist static stability produces a gradient of moist potential vorticity in the rising air, eliminating the short wave cutoff present in the dry Eady problem. The destabilization of the short waves is shown to be associated with the interaction between surface potential temperature anomalies and diabatically generated lower-tropospheric potential vorticity anomalies.
Nonlinear primitive equation simulations, starting from normal-mode initial conditions, show that while the dry wave grows at nearly the linear growth rate until maximum amplitude is reached, the moist wave grows significantly faster than the linear growth rate at finite amplitude. This enhanced growth is associated with the rapid amplification of a mesoscale PV anomaly generated by latent heat release at the warm front. The rapid amplification of the surface cyclone results from the superposition of the circulation associated with this mesoscale PV anomaly upon the circulation associated with the surface and upper boundary potential temperature anomalies. Additional integrations with finite-amplitude initial conditions more typical of atmospheric conditions exhibit similar behavior.
It is suggested that many of the rapid cyclogenesis events that occur as upper-tropospheric PV anomalies cross the east coasts of continents may arise from the rapid generation of PV anomalies by condensational heating in the moist maritime lower troposphere.