Orographic precipitation in the tropics: large-eddy simulations and theory
Kirshbaum, D. J. and Smith, R. B. (2009) Orographic precipitation in the tropics: large-eddy simulations and theory. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 66 (9). pp. 2559-2578. ISSN 1520-0469
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/2009JAS2990.1
Recent radar and rain-gauge observations from the island of Dominica, which lies in the eastern Caribbean sea at 15 N, show a strong orographic enhancement of trade-wind precipitation. The mechanisms behind this enhancement are investigated using idealized large-eddy simulations with a realistic representation of the shallow trade-wind cumuli over the open ocean upstream of the island. The dominant mechanism is found to be the rapid growth of convection by the bulk lifting of the inhomogenous impinging flow. When rapidly lifted by the terrain, existing clouds and other moist parcels gain buoyancy relative to rising dry air because of their different adiabatic lapse rates. The resulting energetic, closely-packed convection forms precipitation readily and brings frequent heavy showers to the high terrain. Despite this strong precipitation enhancement, only a small fraction (1%) of the impinging moisture flux is lost over the island. However, an extensive rain shadow forms to the lee of Dominica due to the convective stabilization, forced descent, and wave breaking. A linear model is developed to explain the convective enhancement over the steep terrain.