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Weather and Climate Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 24 Jun 2020

Submitted as: research article | 24 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

Vertical cloud structure of warm conveyor belts – a comparison and evaluation of ERA5 reanalyses, CloudSat and CALIPSO data

Hanin Binder, Maxi Boettcher, Hanna Joos, Michael Sprenger, and Heini Wernli Hanin Binder et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are important cyclone-related airstreams that are responsible for most of the cloud and precipitation formation in the extratropics. They can also substantially influence the dynamics of the cyclone and the upper-level flow. So far, most knowledge about WCBs is based on model data from analyses, reanalyses and forecast data, with only a few observational studies available. The aim of this work is to gain a detailed observational perspective on the vertical cloud and precipitation structure of WCBs during their inflow, ascent and outflow, and to evaluate their representation in the new ERA5 reanalysis dataset. To this end, satellite observations from the CloudSat radar and the CALIPSO lidar are combined with an ERA5-based WCB climatology for nine Northern Hemisphere winters. Based on a case study and a composite analysis, the main findings can be summarised as follows: (i) WCB air masses are part of deep, strongly precipitating clouds, with cloud-top heights at 9–10 km during their ascent, and an about 2–3 km deep layer with supercooled liquid water co-existing with ice above the melting layer. The maximum surface precipitation occurs when the WCB is at about 2–4 km height. (ii) Convective clouds can be observed above the inflow and during the ascent. (iii) At upper levels, the WCB outflow is typically located near the top of a 3 km deep cirrus layer. (iv) There is a large variability between WCBs in terms of cloud structure, peak reflectivity, and associated surface precipitation. (v) The WCB trajectories with the highest radar reflectivities are mainly located over the North Atlantic and North Pacific, and – apart from the inflow – they occur at relatively low latitudes. They are associated with particularly deep and strongly precipitating clouds that occur not only during the ascent, but also in the inflow and outflow regions. (vi) ERA5 represents the WCB clouds remarkably well in terms of position, thermodynamic phase and frozen hydrometeor distribution, although it underestimates the high ice and snow values in the mixed-phase clouds near the melting layer. (vii) In the lower troposphere, high potential vorticity is diabatically produced along the WCB in areas with high reflectivities and hydrometeor contents, and at upper levels, low potential vorticity prevails in the cirrus layer in the WCB outflow. The study provides important observational insight into the internal cloud structure of WCBs, and emphasises the ability of ERA5 to essentially capture the observed pattern, but also reveals many small- and mesoscale structures observed by the remote sensing instruments but not captured by ERA5.

Hanin Binder et al.

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Hanin Binder et al.

Hanin Binder et al.


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Latest update: 07 Jul 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are important cloud and precipitation producing airstreams in extratropical cyclones. By combining satellite observations with model data from a new reanalysis dataset, this study provides detailed observational insight into the vertical cloud structure of WCBs. We find that the reanalyses essentially capture the observed cloud pattern, but the observations reveal many mesoscale structures not resolved by the temporally and spatially much coarser-resolution model data.
Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are important cloud and precipitation producing airstreams in...