The diurnal cycle of rainfall and convective intensity according to three years of TRMM measurements

Stephen W. Nesbitt, Edward J. Zipser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite measurements from the precipitation radar and TRMM microwave imager have been combined to yield a comprehensive 3-yr database of precipitation features (PFs) throughout the global Tropics (±36° latitude). The PFs retrieved using this algorithm (which number nearly six million Tropicswide) have been sorted by size and intensity ranging from small shallow features greater than 75 km2 in area to large mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) according to their radar and ice scattering characteristics. This study presents a comprehensive analysis of the diurnal cycle of the observed precipitation features' rainfall amount precipitation feature frequency, rainfall intensity, convective-stratiform rainfall portioning, and remotely sensed convective intensity, sampled Tropicswide from space. The observations are sorted regionally to examine the stark differences in the diurnal cycle of rainfall and convective intensity over land and ocean areas. Over the oceans, the diurnal cycle of rainfall has small amplitude, with the maximum contribution to rainfall coming from MCSs in the early morning. This increased contribution is due to an increased number of MCSs in the nighttime hours, not increasing MCS areas or conditional rain rates, in agreement with previous works. Rainfall from sub-MCS features over the ocean has little appreciable diurnal cycle of rainfall or convective intensity. Land areas have a much larger rainfall cycle than over the ocean, with a marked minimum in the midmorning hours and a maximum in the afternoon, slowly decreasing through midnight. Non-MCS features have a significant peak in afternoon instantaneous conditional rain rates (the mean rain rate in raining pixels), and convective intensities, which differs from previous studies using rain rates derived from hourly rain gauges. This is attributed to enhancement by afternoon heating. MCSs over land have a convective intensity peak in the late afternoon, however all land regions have MCS rainfall peaks that occur in the late evening through midnight due to their longer life cycle. The diurnal cycle of overland MCS rainfall and convective intensity varies significantly among land regions, attributed to MCS sensitivity to the varying environmental conditions in which they occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1456-1475
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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