WRF Model Simulations of Terrain-Driven Atmospheric Eddies in Marine Stratocumulus Clouds

Friday, 19 December 2014
Bradley M. Muller, Christopher G. Herbster and Frederick R. Mosher, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ, Daytona Beach, FL, United States
It is not unusual to observe atmospheric eddies in satellite imagery of the marine stratus and stratocumulus clouds that characterize the summertime weather of the California coastal region and near-shore oceanic environment. The winds of the marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) over the ocean interact with the high terrain of prominent headlands and islands to create order-10 km scale areas of swirling air that can contain a cloud-free eye, 180-degree wind reversals at the surface over a period of minutes, and may be associated with mixing and turbulence between the high-humidity air of the MABL and the much warmer and drier inversion layer air above. However, synoptic and even subsynoptic surface weather measurements, and the synoptic upper-air observing network are inadequate, or in some cases, completely unable, to detect and characterize the formation, movement, and even the existence of the eddies. They can literally slip between land-based surface observation locations, or stay over the near-shore ocean environment where there may be no surface meteorological measurements. This study presents Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model simulations of these small-scale, terrain-driven, atmospheric features in the MABL from cases detected in GOES satellite imagery. The purpose is to use model output to diagnose the formation mechanisms, sources of vorticity, and the air flow in and around the eddies. Satellite imagery is compared to simulated atmospheric variables to validate features generated within the model atmosphere, and model output is employed as a surrogate atmosphere to better understand the atmospheric characteristics of the eddies. Model air parcel trajectories are estimated to trace the movement and sources of the air contained in and around these often-observed, but seldom‑measured features.