Landform controls on low level moisture convergence and the diurnal cycle of warm season orographic rainfall in the Southern Appalachians

Anna M. Wilson, Ana P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Advanced Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model was used to simulate two warm season events representative of reverse orographic enhancement of warm season precipitation in the Southern Appalachians under weak (9-12 July, 2012) and strong (12-16 May, 2014) synoptic forcing conditions. Reverse orographic enhancement refers to significant enhancement of rainfall intensity (up to one order of magnitude) at low elevations in the inner mountain valleys, but not in the ridges. This is manifest in significant increases of radar reflectivity observations and associated integral quantities (rain rate) at low levels (within 500 m of the surface), as well as changes in the observed microphysical properties of rainfall (raindrop size distribution). Analysis of high-resolution (1.25 km × 1.25 km) WRF simulations shows that the model captures the march of observed rainfall, though not the timing in the case of strong synoptic forcing. For each event, the results show that the space-time variability of rainfall in the inner region is strongly coupled to the development and persistence of organized within-valley low-level moisture convergence that is a necessary precursor to valley fog and low level cloud formation. Microphysical interactions among precipitation from propagating storm systems, and local low-level clouds and fog promote coalescence efficiency through the seeder-feeder mechanism leading to significant enhancement of rainfall intensity near the ground as shown by Wilson and Barros (2014). The simulations support the hypothesis that ridge-valley precipitation gradients, and in particular the reverse orographic enhancement effects in inner mountain valleys, are linked to horizontal heterogeneity in the vertical structure of low level clouds and precipitation promoted through landform controls on moisture convergence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-493
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Complex terrain
  • Numerical weather simulations
  • Orographic enhancement
  • Precipitation microphysics
  • Seeder-feeder mechanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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