11 Oct 2021

11 Oct 2021

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

Is it north or west foehn? A Lagrangian analysis of PIANO IOP 1

Manuel Saigger and Alexander Gohm Manuel Saigger and Alexander Gohm
  • Department of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences (ACINN), University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

Abstract. A case study of a foehn event in the Inn Valley near Innsbruck, Austria, is investigated that occurred on 29 October 2017 in the framework of the first Intensive Observation Period (IOP) of the Penetration and Interruption of Alpine Foehn (PIANO) field campaign. Accompanied with northwesterly crest-level flow, foehn broke through at the valley floor as strong westerly winds in the moring and was terminated in the afternoon by a cold front arriving from the north. The difference between local and large-scale wind direction rises the question of whether the event should be classified as north or west foehn – a question that has not been convincingly answered in the past for similar events based on Eulerian approaches. Hence, the goal of this study is to assess the air mass origin and the mechanisms of foehn penetration to the valley floor based on a Lagrangian perspective. For this purpose a mesoscale simulation with WRF and a backward trajectory analysis with LAGRANTO are conducted.

The trajectory analysis shows that the major part of the air mass arriving at Innsbruck originates six hours earlier over eastern France, crosses the two mountain ranges of the Vosges and the Black Forest and finally impinges on the Alps near Lake Constance and the Rhine Valley. Orographic precipitation over the mountains leads to a net diabatic heating of about 2.5 K and to a moisture loss of about 1 g kg−1 along the trajectories. A secondary air stream originates further south over the Swiss Plateau and contributes with about 10 to 40 % to the foehn air in Innsbruck. Corresponding trajectories are initially nearly parallel to the northern Alpine rim and get lifted above crest level in the same region as the main trajectory branch. Air parcels within this branch experience a net diabatic heating of about 2 K, and, in contrast to the ones of the main branch, an overall moisture uptake due to evaporation of precipitation formed above this air mass. Penetration into the Inn Valley mainly occurs in the lee of three local mountain ranges – the Lechtal Alps, the Wetterstein, and the Mieming Chain – and is associated with a gravity wave and a persistent atmospheric rotor. A secondary penetration takes place in the western end of the Inn Valley via the Arlberg Pass and Silvretta Pass. Changes in the upstream flow conditions cause a shift in the contributions of the associated penetration branches. From a Lagrangian perspective this shift can be interpreted on the valley scale as a gradual transition from west to northwest foehn, despite the persistent local west wind at Innsbruck. However, a clear classification in one or the other category remains subjective even with the Lagrangian approach and, given the complexity of the trajectory pattern, is nearly impossible with the traditional Eulerian view. Likewise, foehn criteria based on pure adiabatic heating due to subsidence on the leeward side, i.e., the isentropic drawdown mechanism, are not appropriate to classify such moist events.

Manuel Saigger and Alexander Gohm

Status: open (until 22 Nov 2021)

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Manuel Saigger and Alexander Gohm

Manuel Saigger and Alexander Gohm


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Short summary
In this work a special form of a foehn wind in an Alpine valley with a large-scale northwesterly flow is investigated. The study clarifies the origin of the air mass and the mechanisms by which this air enters the valley. A trajectory analysis shows that the location where the main airstream passes the crestline is more suitable for a foehn classification than the local or large-scale wind direction. Mountain waves and a lee rotor were crucial for importing air into the valley.