A climatology and case study of continental cold season dense fog associated with low clouds

Nancy E. Westcott, David A.R. Kristovich

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This study focuses on dense fog cases that develop in association with low clouds and sometimes precipitation. A climatology of weather conditions associated with dense fog at Peoria, Illinois, for October-March 1970-94 indicated that fog forming in the presence of low clouds is common, in 57% of all events. For events associated with low pressure systems, low clouds precede dense fog in 84% of cases. Therefore, continental fogs often do not form under the clear-sky conditions that have received the most attention in the literature. Surface cooling is usually observed prior to fog on clear nights. With low cloud bases, warming or no change in temperature is frequent. Thus, fog often forms under conditions that are not well understood, increasing the difficulty of forecasting fog. The possible mechanisms for fog development under low cloud-base conditions were explored for an event when dense fog covered much of Illinois on 7 November 2006. Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) and rawinsonde observations indicated that evaporating precipitation aloft was important in moistening the lower atmosphere. Dense fog occurred about 6 h following light precipitation at the surface. The surface was nearly saturated following precipitation, but relative cooling was needed to overcome weak warm air advection and supersaturate the lower atmosphere. Surface (2 m) temperatures were near or slightly cooler than ground temperatures in most of the region, suggesting surface sensible heat fluxes were not important in this relative cooling. Sounding data indicated drying of the atmosphere above 800 hPa. Infrared satellite imagery indicated deep clouds associated with a low pressure system moved east of Illinois by early morning, leaving only low clouds. It is hypothesized that radiational cooling of the low cloud layer was instrumental in promoting the early morning dense fog.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2201-2214
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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