Exploration of alpine orographic precipitation patterns with radar image processing and clustering techniques


L. Foresti, Institute of Geomatics and Analysis of Risk, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail: loris.foresti@unil.ch


A methodology of exploratory data analysis investigating the phenomenon of orographic precipitation enhancement is proposed. The precipitation observations obtained from three Swiss Doppler weather radars are analysed for the major precipitation event of August 2005 in the Alps. Image processing techniques are used to detect significant precipitation cells/pixels from radar images while filtering out spurious effects due to ground clutter. The contribution of topography to precipitation patterns is described by an extensive set of topographical descriptors computed from the digital elevation model at multiple spatial scales. Additionally, the motion vector field is derived from subsequent radar images and integrated into a set of topographic features to highlight the slopes exposed to main flows. Following the exploratory data analysis with a recent algorithm of spectral clustering, it is shown that orographic precipitation cells are generated under specific flow and topographic conditions. Repeatability of precipitation patterns in particular spatial locations is found to be linked to specific local terrain shapes, e.g. at the top of hills and on the upwind side of the mountains. This methodology and our empirical findings for the Alpine region provide a basis for building computational data-driven models of orographic enhancement and triggering of precipitation. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society