11.7 Impact of the Andes Cordillera on a mid-latitude cold front

Wednesday, 19 August 2009: 9:30 AM
The Canyons (Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel)
Bradford S. Barrett, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD

The effects of the Andes Cordillera, the major mountain range in South America, on precipitation patterns of baroclinic systems approaching from the southeast Pacific remain largely unstudied. This study focuses on a case in late May 2008 when an upper-level trough and surface cold front produced widespread precipitation in central Chile. The primary goal was to analyze the physical mechanisms responsible for the structure and evolution of the precipitation.

Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model simulations indicate that as an upper-level trough approached central Chile, mid-tropospheric flow below 700 hPa was blocked by the high topography and deflected poleward in the form of a barrier jet. This northerly jet had wind maxima in excess of 15 m s-1, was centered around 925 hPa, and extended westward 200 km from the mountains. It intersected the cold front, which approached from the south near the coast, increasing convergence along the frontal surface, slowing its equatorward progress, and enhancing rainfall over central Chile. Another separate region of heavy precipitation formed over the upwind slopes of the cordillera. A trajectory analysis confirmed that the barrier jet moved low-level parcels from their origin in the moist southeast Pacific boundary layer to the coast. When model topography was reduced to twenty percent of its original height, the cold front advanced more rapidly to the northeast, generated less precipitation in central Chile between 33°S and 36°S, and produced minimal orographic precipitation on the upwind Andean slopes. Based on these findings, the high topography appears responsible for not only orographic precipitation but also for substantially increasing precipitation totals over the central coast and valley.

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