15 Jun 2021

15 Jun 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

Systematic assessment of the diabatic processes that modify low-level potential vorticity in extratropical cyclones

Roman Attinger, Elisa Spreitzer, Maxi Boettcher, Heini Wernli, and Hanna Joos Roman Attinger et al.
  • Institue for Atmopsheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Diabatic processes significantly affect the development and structure of extratropical cyclones. Previous studies quantified the dynamical relevance of selected diabatic processes by studying their influence on potential vorticity (PV) in individual cyclones. However, a more general assessment of the relevance of all PV-modifying processes in a larger ensemble of cyclones is currently missing. Based on a series of twelve 35-day model simulations using the Integrated Forecasting System (IFS) of the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), this study systematically quantifies the relevance of individual diabatic processes for the dynamics of 288 rapidly intensifying extratropical cyclones. To this end, PV tendencies associated with each parametrized process in the model are accumulated along 15 h backward trajectories. The investigation focuses on regions of high PV (≥ 1 PVU) along the cold front, warm front, and in the cyclone center, as well as of negative PV (≤ −0.1 PVU) along the cold and warm front in the lower troposphere.

On average, the primary processes that modify PV during the 24 h period of most rapid cyclone intensification remain temporally consistent for all anomalies considered. However, a pronounced case-to-case variability is found when comparing the dominant processes across individual cyclones. Along the cold front, PV is primarily generated by condensation in half of the investigated cyclones. For the remaining cyclones, convection or long-wave radiative cooling become the dominant process depending on environmental conditions. Results are similar for both seasons, with a reduced role of convection for the generation of PV along the cold front in the warm season. Negative PV west of the cold front is produced by turbulent exchange of momentum and temperature as well as long-wave radiative heating. The relevance of long-wave radiative heating is reduced during summer. The positive PV anomaly at the warm front is predominantly generated by condensation in the cold season, whereas turbulent mixing becomes the prevalent process during the warm season. Convection only plays a minor role for the generation of PV at the warm front. Negative PV along the warm front is produced by long-wave radiative heating, turbulent temperature tendencies, or melting of snow in the cold season. Turbulent temperature tendencies become the dominant process decreasing PV at the warm front in the warm season, together with melting of snow and turbulent exchange of momentum. The positive PV anomaly in the cyclone center is primarily produced by condensation, with only few cyclones where PV production is mainly associated with turbulent mixing or convection.

A composite analysis further reveals that PV anomalies generated by convection require a negative air-sea temperature difference in the warm sector of the cyclone, which promotes a heat flux directed into the atmosphere and destabilizes the boundary layer. These cyclones primarily occur over warm ocean currents in the cold season. On the other hand, cyclones that occur in a significantly colder environment are often associated with a positive air-sea temperature difference in the warm sector, leading to PV generation by long-wave radiative cooling. Finally, long-wave radiative heating due to a negative air-sea temperature difference in the cold sector can produce negative PV along the cold and warm front.

The general agreement between accumulated PV tendencies and the net PV change along trajectories is good. Therefore, the approach used in this study yields valuable insight regarding the specific physical processes that modify low-level PV in rapidly deepening extratropical cyclones.

Roman Attinger et al.

Status: open (until 20 Aug 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on wcd-2021-37', Anonymous Referee #1, 13 Jul 2021 reply

Roman Attinger et al.

Roman Attinger et al.


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Short summary
Diabatic processes affect the development of extratropical cyclones. This work provides a systematic assessment of the diabatic processes that modify potential vorticity (PV) in model simulations. PV is primarily produced by condensation and convection. Given favorable environmental conditions, long-wave radiative cooling and turbulence become the dominant process at the cold and warm fronts, respectively. Turbulence and long-wave radiative heating produce negative PV anomalies at the fronts.