Intensification of convective extremes driven by cloud–cloud interaction

Abstract

In a changing climate, a key role may be played by the response of convective-type cloud and precipitation to temperature changes1,2,3. Yet, it is unclear if convective precipitation intensities will increase mainly due to thermodynamic or dynamical processes4. Here we perform large eddy simulations of convection by imposing a realistic diurnal cycle of surface temperature. We find convective events to gradually self-organize into larger cloud clusters and those events occurring late in the day to produce the highest precipitation intensities. Tracking rain cells throughout their life cycles, we show that events which result from collisions respond strongly to changes in boundary conditions, such as temperature changes. Conversely, events not resulting from collisions remain largely unaffected by the boundary conditions. Increased surface temperature indeed leads to more interaction between events and stronger precipitation extremes. However, comparable intensification occurs when leaving temperature unchanged but simply granting more time for self-organization. These findings imply that the convective field as a whole acquires a memory of past precipitation and inter-cloud dynamics, driving extremes. For global climate model projections, our results suggest that the interaction between convective clouds must be incorporated to simulate convective extremes and the diurnal cycle more realistically.

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Figure 1: Diurnal cycle of precipitation and potential energy.
Figure 2: Dynamics of moisture convergence.
Figure 3: Precipitation intensity of tracks during their life cycles.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Sakradzija and S. Bühler for helpful comments and fruitful discussions. The authors acknowledge the German Weather Service, Meteorological Observatory Lindenberg, and F. Beyrich, for providing the Lindenberg observational data, as well as the University of Wyoming for the sounding data. C.M. acknowledges financial support from the project DH(CP)2, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. J.O.H. acknowledges financial support by the Danish National Research Foundation through the Center for Models of Life.

Author information

C.M. produced all simulation runs, including the simulation set-up, performed data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. C.H. contributed to the simulation set-up, performed data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. P.B. performed data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. J.O.H. performed data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. The initial idea was conceived jointly by all authors.

Correspondence to Christopher Moseley or Jan O. Haerter.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Moseley, C., Hohenegger, C., Berg, P. et al. Intensification of convective extremes driven by cloud–cloud interaction. Nature Geosci 9, 748–752 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2789

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