Dynamic modeling of orographically induced precipitation

Ana Paula Barros, Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Local orography governs the triggering of cloud formation and the enhancement of processes such as condensation and hydrometeor nucleation and growth in mountainous regions. Intense, lengthy precipitation events are typical upwind of the topographic divide, with sharply decreasing magnitude and duration on the lee side. Differences in mean annual precipitation of several hundred percent between windward slopes of orographic barriers and adjacent valleys or lee side slopes are not unusual. Because much of the streamflow in areas such as the western United States is derived from mountainous areas that are remote and often poorly instrumented, modeling of orographic precipitation has important implications for water resources management. Models of orographically induced precipitation differ by their treatment of atmospheric dynamics and by the extent to which they rely on bulk parameterization of cloud and precipitation physics. Adiabatic ascent and a direct proportionality between precipitation efficiency and orographically magnified updrafts are the most frequent assumptions in orographic precipitation modeling. Space‐time discretization (i.e., resolution) is a major issue because of the high spatial variability of orographic precipitation. For a specific storm, relative errors as large as 50 to 100% are common in the forecast/hindcast of precipitation intensity and can be even larger in the case of catastrophic storms. When monthly or seasonal timescales are used to evaluate model performance, the magnitude of such errors decreases dramatically, reaching values as low as 10 to 15%. Current research is focusing on the development of data assimilation techniques to incorporate radar and satellite observations, and on the development of aggregation and disaggregation methodologies to address the implications of modeling a multiscale problem at restricted spatial and temporal resolutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-284
Number of pages20
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


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