Categorisation of northern California rainfall for periods with and without a radar brightband using stable isotopes and a novel automated precipitation collector

Tellus, Series A: Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography
By: , and 



During landfall of extratropical cyclones between 2005 and 2011, nearly 1400 precipitation samples were collected at intervals of 30-min time resolution with novel automated collectors at four NOAA sites in northern California [Alta (ATA), Bodega Bay (BBY), Cazadero (CZD) and Shasta Dam (STD)] during 43 events. Substantial decreases were commonly followed hours later by substantial increases in hydrogen isotopic composition (δ2HVSMOW where VSMOW is Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water) and oxygen isotopic composition (δ18OVSMOW) of precipitation. These variations likely occur as pre-cold frontal precipitation generation transitions from marine vapour masses having low rainout to cold cloud layers having much higher rainout (with concomitant brightband signatures measured by an S-band profiling radar and lower δ2HVSMOW values of precipitation), and finally to shallower, warmer precipitating clouds having lower rainout (with non-brightband signatures and higher δ2HVSMOW values of precipitation), in accord with ‘seeder–feeder’ precipitation. Of 82 intervals identified, a remarkable 100.5 ‰ decrease in δ2HVSMOW value was observed for a 21 January 2010 event at BBY. Of the 61 intervals identified with increases in δ2HVSMOW values as precipitation transitioned to shallower, warmer clouds having substantially less rainout (the feeder part of the seeder–feeder mechanism), a remarkable increase in δ2HVSMOW value of precipitation of 82.3 ‰ was observed for a 10 February 2007 event at CZD. All CZD and ATA events having δ2HVSMOW values of precipitation below −105 ‰ were atmospheric rivers (ARs), and of the 13 events having δ2HVSMOWvalues of precipitation below −80 ‰, 77 % were ARs. Cloud echo-top heights (a proxy for atmospheric temperature) were available for 23 events. The mean echo-top height is greater for higher rainout periods than that for lower rainout periods in 22 of the 23 events. The lowest δ2HVSMOW of precipitation of 28 CZD events was −137.9 ‰ on 16 February 2009 during an AR with cold precipitating clouds and very high rainout with tops >6.5 km altitude. An altitude effect of −2.5 ‰ per 100 m was measured from BBY and CZD δ2HVSMOW data and of −1.8 ‰ per 100 m for CZD and ATA δ2HVSMOW data. We present a new approach to categorise rainfall intervals using δ2HVSMOW values of precipitation and rainfall rates. We term this approach the algorithmic-isotopic categorisation of rainfall, and we were able to identify higher rainout and/or lower rainout periods during all events in this study. We conclude that algorithmic-isotopic categorisation of rainfall can enable users to distinguish between tropospheric vapour masses having relatively high rainout (typically with brightband rain and that commonly are ARs) and vapour masses having lower rainout (commonly with non-brightband rain).

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Categorisation of northern California rainfall for periods with and without a radar brightband using stable isotopes and a novel automated precipitation collector
Series title Tellus, Series A: Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography
DOI 10.3402/tellusb.v67.28574
Volume 67
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher International Meteorological Institute
Publisher location Stockholm, Sweden
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Eastern Branch
Description 48 p.
First page 1
Last page 48
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Northern California: Bodega Bay, Cazadero, Alta and Shasta Dam
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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