A Global Assessment of the Spatial Distribution of Precipitation Occurrence

Smalley, M., and T. L'Ecuyer (2015), A Global Assessment of the Spatial Distribution of Precipitation Occurrence, J. Appl. Meteor. Climat., 54, 2179-2197, doi:10.1175/JAMC-D-15-0019.1.

The spatial distribution of precipitation occurrence has important implications for numerous applications ranging from defining cloud radiative effects to modeling hydrologic runoff, statistical downscaling, and stochastic weather generation. This paper introduces a new method of describing the spatial characteristics of rainfall and snowfall that takes advantage of the high sensitivity and high resolution of the W-band cloud precipitation radar aboard CloudSat. The resolution dependence of precipitation occurrence is described by a two-parameter exponential function defined by a shape factor that governs the variation in the distances between precipitation events and a scale length that represents the overall probability of precipitation and number density of distinct events.

Geographic variations in the shape factor and scale length are consistent with large-scale circulation patterns and correlate with environmental conditions on local scales. For example, a large contrast in scale lengths between land and ocean areas reflects the more extensive, widespread nature of precipitation over land than over ocean. An analysis of warm rain in the southeast Pacific reveals a shift from frequent isolated systems to less frequent but more regularly spaced systems along a transect connecting stratocumulus and trade cumulus cloud regimes. A similar analysis during the Amazon wet season reveals a relationship between the size and frequency of convection and zonal wind direction with precipitation exhibiting a more oceanic character during periods of westerly winds. These select examples demonstrate the utility of this approach for capturing the sensitivity of the spatial characteristics of precipitation to environmental influences on both local and larger scales.

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