Submesoscale spatiotemporal variability of North American Monsoon rainfall over complex terrain

Mekonnen Gebremichael, Enrique R. Vivoni, Christopher J. Watts, Julio C. Rodríguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The authors analyze information from rain gauges, geostationary infrared satellites, and low earth orbiting radar in order to describe and characterize the submesoscale (<75 km) spatial pattern and temporal dynamics of rainfall in a 50 km × 75 km study area located in Sonora, Mexico, in the periphery of the North American monsoon system core region. The temporal domain spans from 1 July to 31 August 2004, corresponding to one monsoon season. Results reveal that rainfall in the study region is characterized by high spatial and temporal variability, strong diurnal cycles in both frequency and intensity with maxima in the evening hours, and multiscaling behavior in both temporal and spatial fields. The scaling parameters of the spatial rainfall fields exhibit dependence on the rainfall rate at the synoptic scale. The rainfall intensity exhibits a slightly stronger diurnal cycle compared to the rainfall frequency, and the maximum lag time between the two diurnal peaks is within 2.4 h, with earlier peaks observed for rainfall intensity. The time of maximum cold cloud occurrence does not vary with the infrared threshold temperature used (215-235 K), while the amplitude of the diurnal cycle varies in such a way that deep convective cells have stronger diurnal cycles. Furthermore, the results indicate that the diurnal cycle of cold cloud occurrence can be used as a surrogate for some basic features of the diurnal cycle of rainfall. The spatial pattern and temporal dynamics of rainfall are modulated by topographic features and large-scale features (circulation and moisture fields as related to geographical location). As compared to valley areas, mountainous areas are characterized by an earlier diurnal peak, an earlier date of maximum precipitation, closely clustered rainy hours, frequent yet small rainfall events, and less dependence of precipitation accumulation on elevation. As compared to the northern section of the study area, the southern section is characterized by strong convective systems that peak late diurnally. The results of this study are important for understanding the physical processes involved, improving the representation of submesoscale variability in models, downscaling rainfall data from coarse meteorological models to smaller hydrological scales, and interpreting and validating remote sensing rainfall estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1751-1773
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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