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Orographic Precipitation in the Tropics-Experiments in Dominica

Orographic Precipitation in the Tropics-Experiments in Dominica

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Orographic Precipitation in the Tropics: Experiments in Dominica
R. B. S
P. S
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 
D. J. K
University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
E. R
Me´ te´ o-France, Fort-de-France, Martinique
(Manuscript received 8 August 2008, in final form 23 October 2008)ABSTRACTThe‘‘naturallaboratory’’ofmountainousDominica(15
N)inthetradewindbeltisusedtostudythephysicsoftropicalorographicprecipitation inits purestform, unforcedbyweather disturbancesorbythe diurnalcycleof solar heating. A cross-island line of rain gauges and 5-min radar scans from Guadeloupe reveal a largeannual precipitation at high elevation (7 m yr
) and a large orographic enhancement factor (2 to 8) causedprimarily by repetitive convective triggering over the windward slope. The triggering is caused by terrain-forced lifting of the conditionally unstable trade wind cloud layer. Ambient humidity fluctuations associatedwith open-ocean convection may play a key role. The convection transports moisture upward and causesfrequentbriefshowers onthe hilltops.Thedrying ratioof the full air columnfrom precipitation isless than 1%whereasthesurfaceairdries byabout 17% from the eastcoastto the mountaintop. On the leeside,a plungingtrade wind inversion and reduced instability destroys convective clouds and creates an oceanic rain shadow.
1. Motivation
Orographic precipitation supplies mountain glaciersand rivers and provides water for irrigation, hydropower,and human consumption. Air mass drying by orographicprecipitation reduces the humidity and precipitation indownwind regions. Orographic precipitation is thoughtto occur in all latitudes and climate zones on earth, butthe physical mechanisms may vary. Many examples of orographic precipitation have been studied over the last50 yr [see reviews by Banta (1990), Smith (2006), andRotunno and Houze (2007), among others], but almostall these studies have been in midlatitudes. A commonelement of previous studies is that orographic precipi-tation events were forced, either by a weather distur-bance that is already precipitating, (e.g., frontal cyclone,squall line, easterly wave, or hurricane) or by the diur-nal cycle of solar heating. We have two objectives: (i) toexamine the physics of orographic precipitation in thetropics and (ii) to identify a location with pure oro-graphic precipitation with a dominance of mechanicallifting and where neither weather disturbances nor di-urnal forcing are needed.One possible location for pure tropical orographicprecipitation is the big island of Hawaii at 20
N (e.g.,Woodcock 1960; Esteban and Chen 2008). During thelongwarmseason,precipitationis foundalmostevery dayonthewindward(east)coast.Thereis,however,adistinctdiurnal cycle to the precipitation there and argumentspersist about the relative importance of forced lifting byterrain and thermally induced circulation as a cause of precipitation. The mountain peaks are so high, and thetrade wind inversion so strong, that most air goes aroundtheislandratherthanoverit.Ontheshelteredwestcoast,a diurnal land–sea breeze occurs in the warm season. Inwintertime, cyclonic disturbances influence precipitation.A second well-studied place is Taiwan at 23
N lati-tude (e.g., Yeh and Chen 1998). Although it does not liein the trade wind belt, it is subject to nearly steady
Correspondingauthor address:
Professor Ronald B. Smith, Dept.of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P.O. Box 208109,New Haven, CT 06520–8109.E-mail: ronald.smith@yale.edu
66DOI: 10.1175/2008JAS2920.1
2009 American Meteorological Society
periods of monsoon wind. On the whole, however, thelocation and size of Taiwan give it a complex precipi-tation pattern, including frequent cyclonic disturbancesand a diurnal cycle.Our search for a pure example of tropical orographicprecipitation led us to the island of Dominica at 15
N inthe West Indies. It has a strong orographic enhance-ment and the processes involved repeat themselves dayafter day. Another motivation for a Dominica study isthe dominance of orographically triggered convectionthere. For the most part, previous studies of orographicprecipitation have ignored the details of triggered con-vection because neither the observations nor the mod-els could resolve it. Some relevant exceptions in mid-latitude observations are Browning et al. (1974) forSouth Wales, Smith et al. (2003) for the Alps, and Colleet al. (2008) in western North America. No such ob-servations are known for the tropics. Cloud-resolvingmodels have recently begun to capture triggered con-vection over terrain (e.g., Kirshbaum and Durran 2005;Fuhrer and Schar 2005; Kirshbaum and Smith 2008),but none of these numerical studies was focused on thetropics.
2. Dominica as a natural laboratory
a. Geography of the island
The volcanic island of Dominica (15
N, 61
W) isthe most mountainous island in the Lesser Antilleschain and receives the most precipitation (Reed 1926;Lang 1967). It lies midway between French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the easterly trade winds.The island terrain forms a simple north–south ridge(Fig. 1) but with higher peaks in the north and south(e.g., Morne Diablotins, 1447 m and Morne Trois Pi-tons, 1424 m). As shown in Fig. 2, these mountains arehigher than the lifting condensation level (LCL) in theregion (
600 m) but lower than the trade wind inver-sion (
1800 m). The dimensions of the island are about17 km in the east–west direction by 45 km north–south.Vegetation on the island grades from tropical rain foreston the east coast to dry grasslands on the west coast. Theisland is known for its waterfalls, rushing rivers, andflash floods. About half of the electrical energy for72 000 inhabitants comes from hydropower.Reed (1926) was the first to note the remarkablerainfall gradients in Dominica. Reviewing the climate of all the Caribbean islands, he wrote: ‘‘The most strikingexample of a great difference in precipitation within afew miles is found in Dominica. Roseau, on the westerncoast, at an elevation of 25 feet, has a mean annualprecipitation of78inches, while Shawford,about 3 milesto the northeast, at an elevation of 560 feet, has a meanannual amount of 185 inches.’’In 1935, Harrison (1935) published a geographic de-scription of Dominica. She included a table showingsignificant terrain enhancement of rainfall. A morecomplete analysis of the precipitation distribution wasprovided by Lang (1967) for the period 1920 to 1965. Heused monthly data from 80 rain collectors at plantationson the island to draw contours of annual rainfall. Hisdata show a strong correspondence between rainfall andelevation.The lack of upstream terrain contributes to the lab-oratory value of Dominica. The easterly trades blowrather steadily against the island in all seasons (Fig. 3).Several dozen back trajectories were run from Dominicausing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis-tration (NOAA) Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian In-tegrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model, based on thegridded National Centers for Environmental Prediction(NCEP) reanalysis. These calculations show that airparcels take about 4 days to cross the 4000-km width of tropical Atlantic from the Canary or Azore Islands toDominica (i.e., about the same path as Columbus’ sec-ond voyage, but 10times faster). Most of the trajectoriesshow slow subsidence, with parcels typically descending1 or 2 km during the Atlantic crossing.
b. Instrumentation
The Yale Dominica Precipitation Project began inMarch 2007, with the objective of understanding themechanism of the orographic enhancement in tropicalDominica. Since then, eight HOBO tipping-bucket raingauges have been installed across the high mountains inthe southern part of the island (Table 1; Fig. 1). Thesegauges record the time of each tip corresponding to0.2mmofprecipitation.Whendataaredownloadedevery5months, the logger clocks have been found accurate tobetter than 1 min, allowing detailed analysis of the rainrate throughout the test period. The location of Fresh-water Lake station is taken as a reference point in laterdiagrams. In Table 1, the total 12-month precipitation isgiven for four stations, and a 6-month total is given forall eight stations during the dry season.The values in Table 1 confirm the relationship be-tween rainfall and elevation found by Lang (1967). Forstations along the coast, however, Lang’s values are 30%greater than our 2007/08 values. In addition to showingthe elevational control on precipitation, Table 1 com-pares three pairs of gauges at similar elevation. On theeast coast, Rosalie and LaPlaine (5 km apart) receivesimilar amounts of rain. On the highest terrain, Fresh-water Lake and Boeri Lake (1.5 km apart) are in verygood agreement, including the day by day and hour by
hour variations. On the west coast, Botanical Gardenand Canefield Airport (5 km apart) are quite different.Canefield lies in the rain shadow of the high southernhills, whereas Botanical Garden further south does not.A key aspect of Dominica that makes it an effectivenatural laboratory is its proximity to the two conven-tional Me´ te´ o-France 2.8-GHz S-band weather radars onGuadeloupe and Martinique. These two radars are lo-cated approximately 60 km north and south of the raingauge line across Dominica. The Guadeloupe radar,with a beam angle of 1.2
, is especially helpful becauseit has very little beam blockage to the south (with theexception of azimuth 160
from true north). The 5-min,200-kmGuadeloupe radar scan is used in this paper withthe
from Regina (2007),where
is the radar reflectivity and
is the rain rate inmm h
. This Z–
relationship was recently optimizedfor Hurricane Dean using with rain gauge data fromMartinique, and it agrees well with the rain gauges inthe present study. Other S-band radars, such as theWeather Surveillance Radar–1988 Doppler (WSR-88D),use a similar exponent (i.e., 1.2) in the tropics. For thestandard 0.5
PPI scan, the beam is about 1.5 km abovesea level at the distance of Dominica. A moderate groundclutter–contaminated echo can be detected from thenorthern peaks (Morne Diablotins, 1447 m) and occa-sionally from the southern peaks (Morne Trois Pitons,1424 m). Echo over both peaks was removed in our
. 1. TheterrainofDominicawithraingaugelocations(seeTable 1). Elevations derivedfrom NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). The Freshwater Lake (FW)station is a reference point for other figures. The viewing site is Riviere Cyrique (Fig. 11).

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