Revisiting low and list (1982): Evaluation of raindrop collision parameterizations using laboratory observations and modeling

Ana P. Barros, Olivier P. Prat, Prabhakar Shrestha, Firat Y. Testik, Larry F. Bliven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Raindrop collision and breakup is a stochastic process that affects the evolution of drop size distributions. (DSDs) in precipitating clouds. Low and List have remained the obligatory reference on this matter for almost three decades. Based on a limited number of drop sizes (10), Low and List proposed generalized parameterizations of collisional breakup across the raindrop spectra that are standard building blocks for numerical models of rainfall microphysics. Here, recent laboratory experiments of drop collision at NASA's Wallops Island Facility (NWIF) using updated high-speed imaging technology with the objective of assessing the generality of Low and List are reported. The experimental fragment size distributions (FSDs) for the collision of selected drop pairs were evaluated against explicit simulations using a dynamical microphysics model (Prat and Barros, with parameterizations based on Low and List updated by McFarquhar). One-to-one comparison of the FSDs shows similar distributions; however, the model was found to underestimate the fragment numbers observed in the smallest diameter range (e.g., D < 0.2 mm), and to overestimate the number of fragments produced when small drops (diameter DS ≥ 1mm) and large drops (diameter DL ≥ 3mm) collide. This effect is particularly large for fragments in the 0.5-1.0-mm range, and more so for filament breakup (the most frequent type of breakup observed in laboratory conditions), reflecting up to 30% uncertainty in the left-hand side of the FSD (i.e., the submillimeter range). For coalescence, the NWIF experiments confirmed the drop collision energy cutoff (ET) estimated by Low and List (i.e., ET > 5.0 μJ). Finally, the digital imagery of the laboratory experiments was analyzed to determine the characteristic time necessary to reach stability in relevant statistical properties. The results indicate that the temporal separation between particle (i.e., single hydrometeor) and population behavior, that is, the characteristic time scale to reach homogeneity in the NWIF raindrop populations, is 160 ms, which provides a lower bound to the governing time scale in population-based microphysical models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2983-2993
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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