Blocking in areas of complex topography, and its influence on rainfall distribution


Hughes, M, A Hall, and RG Fovell. 2009. “Blocking in areas of complex topography, and its influence on rainfall distribution.” Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 66: 508–518.


Using a 6-km-resolution regional climate simulation of Southern California, the effect of orographic blocking on the precipitation climatology is examined. To diagnose whether blocking occurs, precipitating hours are categorized by a bulk Froude number. The precipitation distribution becomes much more spatially homogeneous as the Froude number decreases, and an inspection of winds confirms that this results from the increasing prevalence of orographic blocking. Low Froude (Froude approximately less than 1), blocked cases account for a large fraction of climatological precipitation, particularly at the coastline where more than half is attributable to blocked cases. Thus, the climatological precipitation–slope relationship seen in observations and in the simulation is a hybrid of blocked and unblocked cases.

Simulated precipitation distributions are compared to those predicted by a simple linear model that includes only rainfall arising from direct forced topographic ascent. The agreement is nearly perfect for high Froude (Froude substantially larger than 1) cases but degrades dramatically as the index decreases; as blocking becomes more prevalent, the precipitation–slope relationship becomes continuously weaker than that predicted by the linear model. Because of its high fidelity during unblocked cases, it is surmised that blocking effects are the primary limitation preventing the linear model from accurately representing precipitation climatology and that the representation would be significantly improved during low Froude hours by the addition of a term to reduce the effective slope of the topography. These results suggest orographic blocking may substantially affect climatological precipitation distributions in similarly configured coastal areas.

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Last updated on 03/25/2020