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Keywords:

  • boundary-layer humidity;
  • convective initiation;
  • humidity

Abstract

Refractivity changes (ΔN) derived from radar ground clutter returns serve as a proxy for near-surface humidity changes (1 N unit ≡ 1% relative humidity at 20 °C). Previous studies have indicated that better humidity observations should improve forecasts of convection initiation. A preliminary assessment of the potential of refractivity retrievals from an operational magnetron-based C-band radar is presented. The increased phase noise at shorter wavelengths, exacerbated by the unknown position of the target within the 300 m gate, make it difficult to obtain absolute refractivity values, so we consider the information in 1 h changes. These have been derived to a range of 30 km with a spatial resolution of ∼4 km; the consistency of the individual estimates (within each 4 km × 4 km area) indicates that ΔN errors are about 1 N unit, in agreement with in situ observations. Measurements from an instrumented tower on summer days show that the 1 h refractivity changes up to a height of 100 m remain well correlated with near-surface values. The analysis of refractivity as represented in the operational Met Office Unified Model at 1.5, 4 and 12 km grid lengths demonstrates that, as model resolution increases, the spatial scales of the refractivity structures improve. It is shown that the magnitude of refractivity changes is progressively underestimated at larger grid lengths during summer. However, the daily time series of 1 h refractivity changes reveal that, whereas the radar-derived values are very well correlated with the in situ observations, the high-resolution model runs have little skill in getting the right values of ΔN in the right place at the right time. This suggests that the assimilation of these radar refractivity observations could benefit forecasts of the initiation of convection.