On the relationship between open cellular convective cloud patterns and the spatial distribution of precipitation
Abstract. Precipitation is thought to be a necessary but insufficient condition for the transformation of stratocumulus-topped closed cellular convection to open cellular cumuliform convection. Here we test the hypothesis that the spatial distribution of precipitation is a key element of the closed-to-open cell transition. A series of idealized 3-D simulations are conducted to evaluate the dependency of the transformation on the areal coverage of rain, and to explore the role of interactions between multiple rainy areas in the formation of the open cells. When rain is restricted to a small area, even substantial rain (order few mm day−1) does not result in a transition. With increasing areal coverage of the rain, the transition becomes possible provided that the rain rate is sufficiently large. When multiple small rain regions interact with each other, the transition occurs and spreads over a wider area, provided that the distance between the rain regions is short. When the distance between the rain areas is large, the transition eventually occurs, albeit slowly. For much longer distances between rain regions the system is anticipated to remain in a closed-cell state. These results suggest a connection to the recently hypothesized remote control of open-cell formation. Finally it is shown that this transition occurs along a consistent path in the phase space of the mean vs. coefficient of variation of the liquid water path, droplet number and optical depth. This could be used as a diagnostic tool for global analyses of the statistics of closed- and open-cell occurrence and transitions between them.