Observations of a Subtropical Cold Front in a Region of Complex Terrain

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado/NOAA/NSSL/Mesoscale Research Division, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The passage of shallow cold fronts during the late spring and early summer months over the island of Taiwan is often accompanied by heavy rainfall and occasional flash flood episodes. Previous studies have emphasized the weak baroclinicity of these fronts and their possible modification by fluxes from the air-sea interface. In this study a cold frontal passage in the vicinity of Taiwan is analyzed using data gathered during the Taiwan Area Mesoscale Experiment (TAMEX) on 8 June 1987. At the northern extent of the TAMEX network the cold front was shallow (1–2 km deep) and moderately baroclinic with 5°-7°C temperature contrasts at the surface. A Doppler radar cross section of radial velocity reveals a structure similar to that of a density current at the leading edge of the shallow front. The postfrontal air man was substantially modified by oceanic heat fluxes as it moved southward over the warm ocean waters. This led to a 60%–70% decrease in the temperature contrast across the front between ocean stations at the northern and southern ends of the island, a distance of ∼400 km.

Frontal passages across Taiwan are also influenced by the presence of the Central Mountain Range (CMR), which has an average ridge elevation of ∼2500 m, and is oriented NNE-SSW along the major axis of the island. In the case described in this paper the CMR, 1) acts as a barrier to both the pre- and postfrontal flows, and 2) is influential by inducing thermally-driven diurnal circulations associated with differential heating of the sloped terrain and the nearby ocean. Terrain influences on the kinematics of the flow in the vicinity of the front are also shown to locally modify the frontal intensity.

The inhomogeneous distribution of precipitation attending the frontal passage is related to strong regional variations in thermodynamic stability across the island. These variations in stability are linked to the mesoscale effects of terrain, and to the larger-scale influence of advection of an unstable tropical air mass into the region by a low-level wind maximum.

Abstract

The passage of shallow cold fronts during the late spring and early summer months over the island of Taiwan is often accompanied by heavy rainfall and occasional flash flood episodes. Previous studies have emphasized the weak baroclinicity of these fronts and their possible modification by fluxes from the air-sea interface. In this study a cold frontal passage in the vicinity of Taiwan is analyzed using data gathered during the Taiwan Area Mesoscale Experiment (TAMEX) on 8 June 1987. At the northern extent of the TAMEX network the cold front was shallow (1–2 km deep) and moderately baroclinic with 5°-7°C temperature contrasts at the surface. A Doppler radar cross section of radial velocity reveals a structure similar to that of a density current at the leading edge of the shallow front. The postfrontal air man was substantially modified by oceanic heat fluxes as it moved southward over the warm ocean waters. This led to a 60%–70% decrease in the temperature contrast across the front between ocean stations at the northern and southern ends of the island, a distance of ∼400 km.

Frontal passages across Taiwan are also influenced by the presence of the Central Mountain Range (CMR), which has an average ridge elevation of ∼2500 m, and is oriented NNE-SSW along the major axis of the island. In the case described in this paper the CMR, 1) acts as a barrier to both the pre- and postfrontal flows, and 2) is influential by inducing thermally-driven diurnal circulations associated with differential heating of the sloped terrain and the nearby ocean. Terrain influences on the kinematics of the flow in the vicinity of the front are also shown to locally modify the frontal intensity.

The inhomogeneous distribution of precipitation attending the frontal passage is related to strong regional variations in thermodynamic stability across the island. These variations in stability are linked to the mesoscale effects of terrain, and to the larger-scale influence of advection of an unstable tropical air mass into the region by a low-level wind maximum.

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