Near-global distributions of overshooting tops derived from Terra and Aqua MODIS observations

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Overshooting cloud tops (OTs) form in deep convective storms when strong updrafts overshoot the tropopause. An OT is a well-known indicator of convective updrafts and severe weather conditions. Here, we develop an OT detection algorithm using thermal infrared (IR) channels and apply this algorithm to about 20 years' worth of MODIS data from both Terra and Aqua satellites to form an extensive, near-global climatology of OT occurrences. The algorithm is based on a logistic model which is trained using A-Train observations. We demonstrate that the overall accuracy of our approach is about 0.9 when the probability of the OT candidates is larger than 0.9. The OT climatology reveals a pattern that follows the climatology of deep convection and shallow convection over the midlatitude oceans during winter cold-air outbreaks. OTs appear most frequently over the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), central and southeastern North America, tropical and subtropical South America, southeastern and southern Asia, tropical and subtropical Africa, and northern middle-high latitudes. OT spatial distributions show strong seasonal and diurnal variabilities. Seasonal OT variations shift with large-scale climate systems such as the ITCZ and local monsoonal systems, including the South Asian monsoon, North American monsoon, and West African monsoon. OT diurnal variations agree with the known diurnal cycle of convection. Maximum OT occurrences are in the afternoon over most land areas and around midnight over ocean, and the OT diurnal cycle is stronger and more varied over land than over ocean. OTs over land are usually colder than over ocean, except at around 10:30 LT (Equator-crossing time). The top 10 coldest OTs from both Terra and Aqua mostly occur over land and at night. This study provides OT climatology for the first time, as derived from 2 decades of MODIS data, that represents the longest and stable satellite records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1391-1406
Number of pages16
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 16 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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