Adverse impact of terrain steepness on thermally driven initiation of orographic convection

Matthias Göbel, Stefano Serafin, Mathias W Rotach

Veröffentlichungen: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftArtikelPeer Reviewed


Diurnal mountain winds precondition the environment for deep moist convection through horizontal and vertical transport of heat and moisture. They also play a key role in convection initiation, especially in strongly inhibited environments, by lifting air parcels above the level of free convection. Despite its relevance, the impact of these thermally driven circulations on convection initiation has yet to be examined systematically. Using idealized large-eddy simulations (xCombining double low line50m) with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, we study the effect of cross-valley circulations on convection initiation under synoptically undisturbed and convectively inhibited conditions, considering quasi-2D mountain ranges of different heights and widths. In particular, we contrast convection initiation over relatively steep mountains (20% average slope) and less steep ones (10%). One distinctive finding is that, under identical environmental conditions, relatively steep mountain ranges lead to a delayed onset and lower intensity of deep moist convection, although they cause stronger thermal updrafts at ridge tops. The temporal evolution of convective indices, such as convective inhibition and convective available potential energy, shows that destabilization over the steeper mountains is slower, presumably due to lower low-level moisture. Analysis of the ridgetop moisture budget reveals the competing effects of moisture advection by the mean thermally driven circulation and turbulent moisture transport. In general, at mountaintops, the divergence of the turbulent moisture flux offsets the convergence of the advective moisture flux almost entirely. Due to the stronger ridgetop updraft, the mean advective moistening over the steeper mountains is higher; nevertheless, the total moistening is lower and the width of the updraft zone is narrower on average. Thus, buoyant updrafts over the steeper mountains are more strongly affected by the turbulent entrainment of environmental air, which depletes their moisture and cloud water content and makes them less effective at initiating deep convection. Saturated updrafts over less steep mountains, on the other hand, gain more moisture from the vapor flux at cloud base, leading to significantly higher moisture accumulation. The lower entrainment rates in these simulations are revealed by the fact that equivalent potential temperature in the cloud decreases less strongly with height than over steeper terrain. The precipitation efficiency, a measure of how much of the condensed water eventually precipitates, is considerably larger over the less steep mountains, also due to lower total condensation compared with the steeper simulations. The relationship between mountain size and precipitation amount depends on the thermodynamic profile. It is nearly linear in cases with low initial convective inhibition but more complex otherwise. The weaker convection over steeper mountains is a robust finding, valid over a range of background environmental stability and mountain sizes.

Seiten (von - bis)725-745
FachzeitschriftWeather and Climate Dynamics
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 31 Aug. 2023

ÖFOS 2012

  • 105207 Gebirgsmeteorologie
  • 105206 Meteorologie