CAREER: A Study of the Radiative Effects of Cloud Shadows on the Dynamics of Long-Lived Convective Storms

Project: Research project

Project Details


Under this CAREER award, the Principal Investigator will investigate the radiative effects of cirrus anvils and their shadows on the dynamics of long-lived convective storms. The dynamical impacts will be examined using an advanced, research, three-dimensional cloud model with ice physics and radiation, in addition to a soil model and surface fluxes, which couple the radiative forcing at the surface to the overlying storm inflow within the boundary layer.

The educational component is two-fold: (1) development of a suite of interactive numerical models for use in a variety of courses for undergraduate and graduate students; (2) creation of an interactive museum exhibit that showcases atmospheric research on severe storms and fully immerses visitors in the discovery process that defines science.

Intellectual Merit: Despite significant advances in computing power, radiative effects generally have been ignored in past three-dimensional numerical modeling studies of the dynamics of convective storms. The exclusion often has been justified on the assumption that radiative effects are unimportant on the time scales that convection typically persists, and using the argument that convection is 'dynamically ' rather than 'radiatively driven.' Even though the above arguments are true for many storms, significant low-level cooling (e.g., temperature deficits exceeding 5 K) is occasionally observed beneath the expansive anvils of long-lived convective storms. Idealized numerical simulations that have represented this effect in a crude manner strongly suggest that a potentially important forcing is being missed when such substantial low-level temperature modifications are not captured. Scale analysis indicates that the temperature gradients associated with anvil shadows can be large enough to generate significant baroclinic horizontal vorticity, which can be converted to vertical vorticity, and hence storm rotation, through tilting by an updraft. On the other hand, cooling beneath the optically-thick cloud of a convective storm reduces convective available potential energy and increases the convective inhibition. The proposed research will investigate the effects-which quite possibly compete with one another-of radiatively-induced storm inflow modifications, e.g., baroclinic horizontal vorticity generation, stability modifications, etc.

Specifically, the research will address the following questions:

. What are the possible dynamical effects on convective storms from radiative transfer processes associated with anvils?

. What are the magnitudes of these dynamical effects?

. On what time scales are the radiative effects important?

. Under which environmental conditions (e.g., sounding and hodograph characteristics, surface characteristics, time of day) do radiative effects exert the largest influence on convective storm evolution?

Broader Impacts: The research has ramifications in a potentially broad range of areas, such as (i) warm season precipitation forecasting; (ii) the representation of cloud radiative transfer processes in large-scale models; and (iii) the development or intensification of rotation within severe storms, which are sensitive to variations in horizontal vorticity present in the inflow.

The suite of simple, web-based numerical models in the educational component will augment students' classroom instruction by way of simulation-based laboratory exercises designed to promote creativity and critical thinking. Such exercises will have the utmost flexibility, allowing students to formulate and test their own hypotheses and perhaps even expose areas ripe for future rigorous scientific research. The atmospheric sciences museum exhibit will provide a highly interactive, 'hands on' learning experience to a target audience that ranges from elementary school to adult.

Effective start/end date5/1/074/30/14


  • National Science Foundation: $747,592.00


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