Boundary Layer, Urban Meteorology and Land-Surface Processes

A Unified Theory for the Great Plains Nocturnal Low-Level Jet

Dr. Alan Shapiro
OU School of Meteorology

16 January 2015, 3:00 PM

National Weather Center, Room 5600
120 David L. Boren Blvd.
University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK

The nocturnal low-level jet (LLJ) is a warm-season atmospheric boundary layer phenomenon common to the Great Plains of the United States and other places worldwide, typically in regions east of mountain ranges. Low-level jets develop around sunset in fair weather conditions conducive to strong radiational cooling, reach peak intensity in the pre-dawn hours, and then dissipate with the onset of daytime convective mixing. In this study we consider the LLJ as a diurnal oscillation of a stably stratified atmosphere overlying a planar slope on the rotating Earth. The oscillations arise from diurnal cycles in both the heating of the slope (mechanism proposed by Holton in 1967) and the turbulent mixing (mechanism proposed by Blackadar in 1957). The governing equations are the equations of motion, incompressibility condition, and thermal energy in the Boussinesq approximation, with turbulent heat and momentum exchange parameterized through spatially constant but diurnally varying turbulent diffusion coefficients (diffusivities). Analytical solutions are obtained for diffusivities with piecewise constant waveforms (step-changes at sunrise and sunset) and slope buoyancies with piecewise linear waveforms (saw-tooth function with maximum before sunset and minimum at dawn). The jet characteristics are governed by eleven parameters: slope angle, Coriolis parameter, Brunt-Vaisala frequency, geostrophic wind strength, daytime and nighttime diffusivities, maximum (day) and minimum (night) slope buoyancies, duration of daylight, lag time between peak slope buoyancy and sunset, and a Newtonian cooling time scale. An exploration of the parameter space yields results that are broadly consistent with findings particular to the Holton and Blackadar theories, and agree with climatological observations, for example, that stronger jets tend to occur over slopes of 0.15-0.25 degrees characteristic of the Great Plains. The solutions also yield intriguing predictions that peak jet strength increases with attenuation of the minimum surface buoyancy, and that the single most important parameter determining jet height is the nighttime diffusivity, with weaker nightime diffusion associated with shallower jets.

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