A ‘Boscastle-type’ quasi-stationary convective system over the UK Southwest Peninsula

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Abstract

An investigation is presented of a quasi-stationary convective system (QSCS) which occurred over the UK Southwest Peninsula on 21 July 2010. This system was remarkably similar in its location and structure to one which caused devastating flash flooding in the coastal village of Boscastle, Cornwall on 16 August 2004. Both events were characterised by deep southwesterly flow and saw the repeated development of convective cells along the west coast of the Southwest Peninsula. However, in the 2010 case, rainfall accumulations were around four times smaller and no flooding was recorded. The more extreme nature of the Boscastle case is shown to be related to three factors: (1) higher rain rates, associated with a warmer and moister tropospheric column and deeper convective clouds; (2) a more stationary system, due to slower evolution of the large-scale flow; and (3) distribution of the heaviest precipitation over fewer river catchments.

A numerical simulation of the July 2010 event was performed using a 1.5 km grid length configuration of the Met Office Unified Model. This reveals that convection was repeatedly initiated through lifting along a quasi-stationary boundary-layer convergence line. Sensitivity tests are used to show that this convergence line was a sea-breeze front which temporarily stalled along the coastline due to the retarding influence of an offshore-directed background wind component. Several deficiencies are noted in the 1.5 km model's representation of the storm system, including delayed convective initiation; however, significant improvements are observed when the grid length is reduced to 500 m. These result in part from an improved representation of the convergence line, which enhances the associated low-level ascent, allowing air parcels to more readily reach their level of free convection. The implications of this finding for forecasting convective precipitation are discussed.

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