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A new paradigm for occluded fronts and the occlusion process

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Monday, 24 January 2011
A new paradigm for occluded fronts and the occlusion process
David M. Schultz, Universities of Helsinki and Manchester/Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland; and G. Vaughan

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Traditionally, the formation of an occluded front during the occlusion process in extratropical cyclones has been viewed as the catch-up of a faster-moving cold front to a slower-moving warm front separating the warm-sector air from the low center, as first described in the Norwegian cyclone model over 90 years ago. In this article, the conventional wisdom, or the commonly held beliefs originating from the Norwegian cyclone model, about occluded fronts and the occlusion process are critically examined. The following four tenets of this conventional wisdom are addressed. First, the occlusion process is better described, not by catch-up, but by the wrapping up and lengthening of the warm-air tongue as a result of deformation and rotation around the low center. Second, the merger of the cold front and warm front does not result in the frontal zone with the warmer air ascending over the other frontal zone. Instead, the occluded frontal zone tilts over the more statically stable frontal zone. Because a warm-frontal zone tends to be more stable than a cold-frontal zone, this process usually produces a warm-type occlusion, confirming that cold-type occlusions are less common than warm-type occlusions. Third, occlusion does not mean that the cyclone has stopped deepening, as many cyclones continue to deepen for as much as 24 h after the formation of the occluded front. Fourth, clouds and precipitation associated with occluded fronts differ from their widespread stratiform depiction in textbooks. Embedded precipitation bands may be parallel to the front, and little relationship may exist between the fronts and the cloud mass. These four tenets help to explain anomalies in the Norwegian cyclone model such as how occluded fronts that spiral around the low center do not require catch-up to form, how Shapiro–Keyser cyclones undergo occlusion, why some cyclones do not form occluded fronts, how some cyclones deepen after occlusion, why few cold-type occlusions have been observed, and why occluded cyclones are often associated with heavy precipitation. This re-examination of conventional wisdom leads to a new paradigm for occluded fronts and occluded cyclones.