A Diabatically Driven Mesoscale Vortex in the Lee of the Tibetan Plateau

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, and Department of Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 3 Department of Meteorology and Earth System Science Center, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
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Abstract

An analysis of a diabatically driven and long-lived midtropospheric vortex in the lee of the Tibetan Plateau during 24–27 June 1987 is presented. The large-scale conditions were characterized by the westward expansion of the 500-mb western Pacific subtropical high and the amplification of a trough in the lee of the plateau. Embedded within the lee trough, three mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) developed. A vortex emerged following the dissipation of one MCS, with its strongest circulation located in the 400–500-mb layer. Low-level warm advection, and surface sensible and latent heating contributed to the convective initiation. Weak wind and weak ambient vorticity conditions inside the lee trough provided a favorable environment for these MCSs and the vortex to develop and evolve. The organized vortex circulation featured a coherent core of cyclonic vorticity extending from near the surface to 300 mb, with virtually no vertical tilt. The air in the vicinity of the vortex was very moist, and the temperature profile was nearly moist adiabatic, with moderate convective available potential energy. The wind near the vortex center was weak, with little vertical shear. These characteristics are similar to those of mesoscale convectively generated vortices found in the United States. The vortex circulation persisted in the same area for 3 days. The steadiness of large-scale circulation in the region, that is, the presence of the stationary lee trough and a geopotential ridge that developed to the east of the trough, likely contributed to the persistence of the vortex over the same area.

Potential vorticity (PV) diagnosis suggests that the significant increase in the relative vorticity associated with the vortex development was largely a result of diabatic heating associated with the MCS. An elevated PV anomaly was found near 400 mb in situ after the dissipation of the MCS. The PV anomaly was distinctly separated from those associated with baroclinic disturbances located to the north of the Tibetan Plateau, and the region of the PV anomaly was nearly saturated (with relative humidity exceeding 80%). Further support for this hypothesis was provided by the estimated heating profile and the rate of PV generation due to diabatic heating. The heating peaked at 300 mb, while the diabatic generation of PV reached its maximum at 500 mb. The preexisting ambient vorticity contributed about 20% to the total PV generation near the mature stage of the MCS.

The vortex was also associated with heavy precipitation over the western Sichuan Basin of China. The persistent, heavy rainfall took place in the southeasterly flow associated with the vortex circulation, about 300 km north of the vortex center.

Abstract

An analysis of a diabatically driven and long-lived midtropospheric vortex in the lee of the Tibetan Plateau during 24–27 June 1987 is presented. The large-scale conditions were characterized by the westward expansion of the 500-mb western Pacific subtropical high and the amplification of a trough in the lee of the plateau. Embedded within the lee trough, three mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) developed. A vortex emerged following the dissipation of one MCS, with its strongest circulation located in the 400–500-mb layer. Low-level warm advection, and surface sensible and latent heating contributed to the convective initiation. Weak wind and weak ambient vorticity conditions inside the lee trough provided a favorable environment for these MCSs and the vortex to develop and evolve. The organized vortex circulation featured a coherent core of cyclonic vorticity extending from near the surface to 300 mb, with virtually no vertical tilt. The air in the vicinity of the vortex was very moist, and the temperature profile was nearly moist adiabatic, with moderate convective available potential energy. The wind near the vortex center was weak, with little vertical shear. These characteristics are similar to those of mesoscale convectively generated vortices found in the United States. The vortex circulation persisted in the same area for 3 days. The steadiness of large-scale circulation in the region, that is, the presence of the stationary lee trough and a geopotential ridge that developed to the east of the trough, likely contributed to the persistence of the vortex over the same area.

Potential vorticity (PV) diagnosis suggests that the significant increase in the relative vorticity associated with the vortex development was largely a result of diabatic heating associated with the MCS. An elevated PV anomaly was found near 400 mb in situ after the dissipation of the MCS. The PV anomaly was distinctly separated from those associated with baroclinic disturbances located to the north of the Tibetan Plateau, and the region of the PV anomaly was nearly saturated (with relative humidity exceeding 80%). Further support for this hypothesis was provided by the estimated heating profile and the rate of PV generation due to diabatic heating. The heating peaked at 300 mb, while the diabatic generation of PV reached its maximum at 500 mb. The preexisting ambient vorticity contributed about 20% to the total PV generation near the mature stage of the MCS.

The vortex was also associated with heavy precipitation over the western Sichuan Basin of China. The persistent, heavy rainfall took place in the southeasterly flow associated with the vortex circulation, about 300 km north of the vortex center.

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