Mesoscale stratocumulus bands caused by Gulf Stream meanders

George S. Young, Todd D. Sikora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Examination of visible and infrared imagery from geosynchronous and polar orbiter satellites reveals the occasional existence of mesoscale cloud bands of unusual width and area, originating over the open northwest Atlantic Ocean during cold-air outbreaks. This phenomenon is of both dynamic and synoptic interest. As a dynamic phenomenon, it represents a mesoscale flow that is driven by transient surface features, which are meanders in the Gulf Stream. The forcing geometry and the resulting cloud pattern are similar in many respects to the anomalous cloud lines observed downwind of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays in similar conditions. These open ocean cloud bands are often of a larger scale, however, because the Gulf Stream meanders represent the largest-scale high-amplitude "coastal features" in the western North Atlantic. These cloud bands are of synoptic interest because, when present, they play a major role in determining the cloud pattern over much of this oceanic region. Examination of surface and 850-hPa analyses demonstrates that these open ocean cloud bands occur during cold-air outbreaks and that they align approximately with the boundary layer wind. Comparison of visible and infrared satellite imagery with contemporaneous sea surface temperature analyses derived from infrared polar orbiter satellite imagery reveals that the open ocean cloud bands originate at the upwind end of Gulf Stream meanders. Climatological data and synoptic observations from land and sea indicate that these events occur only during that part of the spring season in which coastal temperature differences are small but cold-air outbreaks continue to reach the Gulf Stream. Examination of this observational evidence suggests that these open ocean cloud bands result from mesoscale solenoidal circulations driven by the horizontal gradients in sea surface temperature caused by Gulf Stream meanders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2177-2191
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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