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Keywords:

  • GCM;
  • CRM;
  • CSRM;
  • rainfall;
  • TRMM;
  • cascade

Abstract

Global climate and weather models tend to produce rainfall that is too light and too regular over the tropical ocean. This is likely because of convective parametrizations, but the problem is not well understood. Here, distributions of precipitation rates are analyzed for high-resolution UK Met Office Unified Model simulations of a 10 day case study over a large tropical domain (∼20°S–20°N and 42°E–180°E). Simulations with 12 km grid length and parametrized convection have too many occurrences of light rain and too few of heavier rain when interpolated onto a 1° grid and compared with Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) data. In fact, this version of the model appears to have a preferred scale of rainfall around 0.4 mm h−1 (10 mm day−1), unlike observations of tropical rainfall. On the other hand, 4 km grid length simulations with explicit convection produce distributions much more similar to TRMM observations. The apparent preferred scale at lighter rain rates seems to be a feature of the convective parametrization rather than the coarse resolution, as demonstrated by results from 12 km simulations with explicit convection and 40 km simulations with parametrized convection. In fact, coarser resolution models with explicit convection tend to have even more heavy rain than observed. Implications for models using convective parametrizations, including interactions of heating and moistening profiles with larger scales, are discussed. One important implication is that the explicit convection 4 km model has temperature and moisture tendencies that favour transitions in the convective regime. Also, the 12 km parametrized convection model produces a more stable temperature profile at its extreme high-precipitation range, which may reduce the chance of very heavy rainfall. Further study is needed to determine whether unrealistic precipitation distributions are due to some fundamental limitation of convective parametrizations or whether parametrizations can be improved, in order to better simulate these distributions. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society