Ground observations to characterize the spatial gradients and vertical structure of orographic precipitation - Experiments in the inner region of the Great Smoky Mountains

Olivier P. Prat, Ana P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A new rain gauge network was installed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in the Southern Appalachians since 2007 to investigate the space-time distribution of precipitation in the inner mountain region. Exploratory Intense Observing Periods (IOPs) have been conducted in the summer and fall seasons to devise optimal long-term monitoring strategies, and Micro Rain Radars (MRR) were deployed twice in July/August and October/November 2008 at a mountain ridge location and a nearby valley. Rain gauge and MRR observations were analyzed to characterize seasonal (summer/fall) and orographic (valley/ridge) precipitation features. The data show that summer precipitation is characterized by large event-to-event variability including both stratiform and convective properties. During fall, stratiform precipitation dominates and rainfall is two times more frequent at the ridge than in the valley, corresponding to a 100% increase in cumulative rainfall at high elevation. For concurrent rain events, the orographic enhancement effect is on the order of 60%. Evidence of a seasonal signature in the drop size distribution (DSD) was found with significantly heavier tails (larger raindrops) for summer DSDs at higher elevations, whereas no significant differences were observed between ridge and valley locations during fall deployment. However, physically-based modeling experiments suggest that there are inconsistencies between the reflectivity profiles and MRR DSD estimates when large raindrop sizes are present. The number of very small drops is very high (up to two orders of magnitude) at high elevations as compared to the typical values in the literature, which cannot be explained only by fog and drizzle and suggest an important role for mixed phase processes in determining the shape of the DSD below the brightband. Because numerical modeling experiments show that coalescence is the dominant microphysical mechanism for DSD evolution for the relatively low to moderate observed rain rates characteristic of mountainous regions, it is therefore critical to clarify the shape and parameters that characterize the left-hand side of the DSD in mountainous regions. Finally, whereas low cost Micro Rain Radars (MRR) were found particularly useful for qualitative description of precipitation events and to identify rain/snow melting conditions, when compared against collocated rain gauges, MRR Quantitative Precipitation Estimation (QPE) is not reliable. Place-based calibration and reliance upon physically-based QPE retrieval algorithms can improve their utility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-156
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Calibration
  • Micro Rain Radar
  • Mountainous precipitation
  • Orographic enhancement
  • Rain gauge
  • Warm/cold precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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