The climatology of small-scale orographic precipitation over the olympic mountains: Patterns and processes

Justin R. Minder, Dale R. Durran, Gerard H. Roe, Alison M. Anders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The climatology of small-scale patterns of mountain precipitation is poorly constrained, yet important for applications ranging from natural hazard assessment to understanding the geologic evolution of mountain ranges. Synthesizing four rainy seasons of high-resolution precipitation observations and mesoscale model output (from the Penn State/NCAR MM5), reveals a persistent small-scale pattern of precipitation over the ε110 km wide, ε1800 m high ridges and valleys of the western Olympic Mountains, Washington State, USA. This pattern is characterized by a 50-70% excess accumulation over the ridge crests relative to the adjacent valleys in the annual mean. While the model shows excellent skill in simulating these patterns at seasonal time-scales, major errors exist for individual storms. Investigation of a range of storm events has revealed the following mechanism for the climatological pattern. Regions of enhanced condensation of cloud water are produced by ascent in stable flow over the windward slopes of major ridges. Synoptically generated precipitation grows by collection within these clouds, leading to enhanced precipitation which is advected by the prevailing winds. Instances of atypical patterns of precipitation suggest that under certain conditions (during periods with a low freezing level, or convective cells) fundamental changes in small-scale patterns may occur. However, case-studies and composite analysis suggest that departures from the pattern of ridge-top enhancement are rare; the basic patterns and processes appear robust to changes in temperature, winds, and background rainfall rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-839
Number of pages23
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number633 B
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • MM5
  • Mountain waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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