Storm morphology and rainfall characteristics of TRMM precipitation features

Stephen W. Nesbitt, Robert Cifelli, Steven A. Rutledge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Precipitation Radar (PR), TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI), and Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS) observations within the Precipitation Feature (PF) database have been analyzed to examine regional variability in rain area and maximum horizontal extent of rainfall features, and role of storm morphology on rainfall production (and thus modes where vertically integrated heating occurs). Particular attention is focused on the sampling geometry of the PR and the resulting impact on PF statistics across the global Tropics. It was found that 9% of rain features extend to the edge of the PR swath, with edge features contributing 42% of total rainfall. However, the area (maximum dimension) distribution of PR features is similar to the wider-swath TMI up until a truncation point of nearly 30 000 km2 (250 km), so a large portion of the feature size spectrum may be examined using the PR as with past ground-based studies. This study finds distinct differences in land and ocean storm morphology characteristics, which lead to important differences in rainfall modes regionally. A larger fraction of rainfall comes from more horizontally and vertically developed PFs over land than ocean due to the lack of shallow precipitation in both relative and absolute frequency of occurrence, with a trimodal distribution of rainfall contribution versus feature height observed over the ocean. Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are found to be responsible for up to 90% of rainfall in selected land regions. Tropicswide, MCSs are responsible for more than 50% of rainfall in almost all regions with average annual rainfall exceeding 3 mm day-1. Characteristic variability in the contribution of rainfall by feature type is shown over land and ocean, which suggests new approaches for improved convective parameterizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2702-2721
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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