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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.

  02 Oct 2020

02 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

A process-based anatomy of Mediterranean cyclones: From baroclinic lows to tropical-like systems

Emmanouil Flaounas1, Suzanne L. Gray2, and Franziska Teubler3 Emmanouil Flaounas et al.
  • 1Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, UK
  • 3Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Mainz, Germany

Abstract. In this study, we address the question of the atmospheric processes that turn Mediterranean cyclones into severe storms. Our approach applies on-line potential vorticity (PV) budget diagnostics and piecewise PV inversion to WRF model simulations of the mature stage of 100 intense Mediterranean cyclones. We quantify the relative contributions of different processes to cyclone development and therefore deliver, for the first time, a comprehensive insight into the variety of cyclonic systems that develop in the Mediterranean from the perspective of cyclone dynamics.

In particular, we show that all 100 cyclones are systematically influenced by two main PV anomalies: a major anomaly in the upper troposphere, related to the baroclinic forcing of cyclone development, and a minor anomaly in the lower troposphere, related to diabatic processes and momentum forcing of wind. Among the diabatic processes, latent heat is shown to act as the main PV source (reinforcing cyclones), being partly balanced by PV sinks of temperature diffusion and radiative cooling (weakening cyclones). Momentum forcing is shown to have an ambiguous feedback, able to reinforce and weaken cyclones while in certain cases playing an important role in cyclone development. Piecewise PV inversion shows that most cyclones develop due to the combined effect of both baroclinic and diabatic forcing, i.e. due to both PV anomalies. However, the stronger the baroclinic forcing, the less a cyclone is found to develop due to diabatic processes. Several pairs of exemplary cases are used to illustrate the variety of contributions of atmospheric processes to the development of Mediterranean cyclones: (i) cases where both baroclinic and diabatic processes contribute to cyclone development; (ii) cases that mainly developed due to latent-heat release; (iii) cases developing in the wake of the Alps; and (iv) two unusual cases, one where momentum forcing dominates cyclone development and the other presenting a dual surface pressure centre. Finally, we focus on ten medicane cases (i.e. tropical-like cyclones). In contrast to their tropical counterparts – but in accordance with most intense Mediterranean cyclones – most medicanes are shown to develop under the influence of both baroclinic and diabatic processes. In discussion of medicane driving processes, we highlight the need for a physical definition of these systems.

Emmanouil Flaounas et al.

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Emmanouil Flaounas et al.

Emmanouil Flaounas et al.


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