Turbulence in Breaking Mountain Waves and Atmospheric Rotors Estimated From Airborne in situ and Doppler Radar Measurements

Q J R Meteorol Soc. 2015 Oct;141(693):3207-3225. doi: 10.1002/qj.2604. Epub 2015 Sep 24.


Atmospheric turbulence generated in flow over mountainous terrain is studied using airborne in situ and cloud radar measurements over the Medicine Bow Mountains in southeast Wyoming, USA. During the NASA Orographic Clouds Experiment (NASA06) in 2006, two complex mountain flow cases were documented by the University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft carrying the Wyoming Cloud Radar. The structure of turbulence and its intensity across the mountain range are described using the variance of vertical velocity σw2 and the cube root of the energy dissipation rate ɛ1/3 (EDR). For a quantitative analysis of turbulence from the cloud radar, the uncertainties in the Doppler wind retrieval have to be taken into account, such as the variance of hydrometeor fall speed and the contamination of vertical Doppler velocity by the horizontal wind. A thorough analysis of the uncertainties shows that 25% accuracy or better can be achieved in regions of moderate to severe turbulence in the lee of the mountains, while only qualitative estimates of turbulence intensity can be obtained outside the most turbulent regions. Two NASA06 events exhibiting large-amplitude mountain waves, mid-tropospheric wave breaking, and rotor circulations are examined. Moderate turbulence is found in a wave-breaking region with σw2 and EDR reaching 4.8 m2 s-2 and 0.25 m2/3 s-1, respectively. Severe turbulence is measured within the rotor circulations with σw2 and EDR respectively in the ranges of 7.8-16.4 m2 s-2 and 0.50-0.77 m2/3 s-1. A unique result of this study is the quantitative estimation of the intensity of turbulence and its spatial distribution in the interior of atmospheric rotors, provided by the radar-derived turbulence fields.

Keywords: airborne Doppler radar; aviation turbulence; boundary‐layer separation; energy dissipation rate; mountain waves; rotors; wave breaking.