The precipitation distribution set by eddy fluxes: the case of boreal winter

Changhyun Yoo, Sukyoung Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The latitudinal precipitation distribution shows a secondary peak in midlatitudes and a minimum in the subtropics. This minimum is widely attributed to the descending branch of the Eulerian Hadley cell. This study however shows that the precipitation distribution aligns more closely with the transformed Eulerian mean (TEM) vertical motion. In Northern Hemisphere winter, maximum TEM descent (ascent) and precipitation minimum (maximum) are collocated at ~20°N (~40°N). The subtropical descent is mostly driven by the meridional flux of zonal momentum by large-scale eddies, while the midlatitude ascent is driven by the meridional flux of heat by the eddies. When the poleward eddy momentum flux is sufficiently strong, however, the secondary precipitation peak shifts to 60°N corresponding to the location of the TEM ascent driven by the eddy momentum flux. Moisture supply for the precipitation is aided by evaporation which is enhanced where the TEM descending branch brings down dry air from the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere. This picture is reminiscent of dry air intrusions in synoptic meteorology, suggesting that the descending branch may embody a zonal mean expression of dry air intrusions. Moist air rises following the TEM ascending branch, suggesting that the ascending branch may be interpreted as a zonal mean expression of warm conveyor belts. This study thus offers a large-scale dynamics perspective of the synoptic description of precipitation systems. The findings here also suggest that future changes in the eddy momentum flux, which is poorly understood, could play a pivotal role in determining the future precipitation distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
Journalnpj Climate and Atmospheric Science
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Atmospheric Science

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