Soil moisture-precipitation coupling: Observations from the Oklahoma Mesonet and underlying physical mechanisms

T. W. Ford, A. D. Rapp, S. M. Quiring, J. Blake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interactions between soil moisture and the atmosphere are driven by the partitioning of sensible and latent heating, through which soil moisture has been connected to atmospheric modifications that could potentially lead to the initiation of convective precipitation. The majority of previous studies linking the land surface to subsequent precipitation have used atmospheric reanalysis or model data sets. In this study, we link in situ observations of soil moisture from more than 100 stations in Oklahoma to subsequent unorganized afternoon convective precipitation. We use hourly next generation (NEXRAD) radar-derived precipitation to identify convective events, and then compare the location of precipitation initiation to underlying soil moisture anomalies in the morning. Overall we find a statistically significant preference for convective precipitation initiation over drier than normal soils, with over 70 % of events initiating over soil moisture below the long-term median. The significant preference for precipitation initiation over drier than normal soils is in contrast with previous studies using satellite-based precipitation to identify the region of maximum precipitation accumulation. We evaluated 19 convective events occurring near Lamont, Oklahoma, where soundings of the atmospheric profile at 06:00 and 12:00 LST are also available. For these events, soil moisture has strong negative correlations with the level of free convection (LFC), planetary boundary layer (PBL) height, and surface temperature changes between 06:00 and 12:00 LST. We also find strong positive correlations between morning soil moisture and morning-to-afternoon changes in convective available potential energy and convective inhibition. In general, the results of this study demonstrate that both positive and negative soil moisture feedbacks are important in this region of the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3617-3631
Number of pages15
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 21 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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