Effects of moist convection on mesoscale predictability

Fuqing Zhang, Chris Snyder, Richard Rotunno

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281 Scopus citations


In a previous study by the authors, it was shown that the problematic numerical prediction of the 24-25 January 2000 snowstorm along the east coast of the United States was in some measure due to rapid error growth at scales below 500 km. In particular they found that moist processes were responsible for this strong initial-condition sensitivity of the 1-2-day prediction of mesoscale forecast aspects. In the present study they take a more systematic look at the processes by which small initial differences ("errors") grow in those numerical forecasts. For initial errors restricted to scales below 100 km, results show that errors first grow as small-scale differences associated with moist convection, then spread upscale as their growth begins to slow. In the context of mesoscale numerical predictions with 30-km resolution, the initial growth is associated with nonlinearities in the convective parameterization (or in the explicit microphysical parameterizations, if no convective parameterization is used) and proceeds at a rate that increases as the initial error amplitude decreases. In higher-resolution (3.3 km) simulations, errors first grow as differences in the timing and position of individual convective cells. Amplification at that stage occurs on a timescale on the order of 1 h. comparable to that of moist convection. The errors in the convective-scale motions subsequently influence the development of meso- and larger-scale forecast aspects such as the position of the surface low and the distribution of precipitation, thus providing evidence that growth of initial errors from convective scales places an intrinsic limit on the predictability of larger scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1185
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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