Factors Controlling Rain on Small Tropical Islands: Diurnal Cycle, Large-Scale Wind Speed, and Topography

Wang, Shuguang; Sobel, Adam H.

A set of idealized cloud-permitting simulations is performed to explore the influence of small islands on precipitating convection as a function of large-scale wind speed. The islands are situated in a long narrow ocean domain that is in radiative–convective equilibrium (RCE) as a whole, constraining the domain-average precipitation. The island occupies a small part of the domain, so that significant precipitation variations over the island can occur, compensated by smaller variations over the larger surrounding oceanic area.

While the prevailing wind speeds vary over flat islands, three distinct flow regimes occur. Rainfall is greatly enhanced, and a local symmetric circulation is formed in the time mean around the island, when the prevailing large-scale wind speed is small. The rainfall enhancement over the island is much reduced when the wind speed is increased to a moderate value. This difference is characterized by a change in the mechanisms by which convection is forced. A thermally forced sea breeze due to surface heating dominates when the large-scale wind is weak. Mechanically forced convection, on the other hand, is favored when the large-scale wind is moderately strong, and horizontal advection of temperature reduces the land–sea thermal contrast that drives the sea breeze. Further increases of the prevailing wind speed lead to strong asymmetry between the windward and leeward sides of the island, owing to gravity waves that result from the land–sea contrast in surface roughness as well as upward deflection of the horizontal flow by elevated diurnal heating. Small-amplitude topography (up to 800-m elevation is considered) has a quantitative impact but does not qualitatively alter the flow regimes or their dependence on wind speed.

Geographic Areas


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Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences

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