440 What Causes Weak Orographic Rain Shadows? Insights from Case Studies in the Cascades and Idealized Simulations

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
4E (Washington State Convention Center )
Nicholas T. Siler, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA; and D. Durran

Recent studies have shown that weak rain shadows in the Cascade Mountains are associated with passing warm fronts, but the specific mechanisms responsible for this connection have eluded consensus. One theory maintains that weak rain shadows are the result of enhanced precipitation over eastern slopes caused by easterly upslope flow; the other suggests that condensation is produced primarily over the western slopes, with enhanced east-slope precipitation occurring in dynamical regimes that minimize descent and evaporation east of the crest. Here these mechanisms are investigated through numerical simulations involving both real and idealized topography. Consistent with the second theory, storms with weak rain shadows are found to exhibit much weaker mountain waves in the lee of the Cascades than storms with strong rain shadows, with correspondingly weaker lee-side evaporation. The muted wave activity during weak-rain-shadow storms is found to be caused by cold, zonally-stagnant air at low levels in the lee, which precedes the warm front, and remains in place as the progression of the front is impeded by the mountains. As the front brings warmer air aloft, the static stability of the zonally-stagnant layer increases, making it more resistant to erosion by the overlying flow. This in turn allows the weak rain shadow to persist long after the front has passed. If the mid-latitude storm tracks shift poleward in a warmer climate, our results suggest there could be an increase in the strength of the rain shadow in mountainous regions astride the current storm tracks.
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