Articles | Volume 15, issue 7
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 3785–3801, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-15-3785-2015
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 3785–3801, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-15-3785-2015

Research article 08 Apr 2015

Research article | 08 Apr 2015

High-resolution observations of the near-surface wind field over an isolated mountain and in a steep river canyon

B. W. Butler1, N. S. Wagenbrenner1,2, J. M. Forthofer1, B. K. Lamb2, K. S. Shannon1, D. Finn3, R. M. Eckman3, K. Clawson3, L. Bradshaw1, P. Sopko1, S. Beard3, D. Jimenez1, C. Wold1, and M. Vosburgh1 B. W. Butler et al.
  • 1US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, 5775 Hwy 10 Missoula, MT 59808, USA
  • 2Washington State University, Laboratory for Atmospheric Research Pullman, WA 99164-2910, USA
  • 3NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Field Research Division 1750 Foote Dr. Idaho Falls, ID 83402, USA

Abstract. A number of numerical wind flow models have been developed for simulating wind flow at relatively fine spatial resolutions (e.g., ~ 100 m); however, there are very limited observational data available for evaluating these high-resolution models. This study presents high-resolution surface wind data sets collected from an isolated mountain and a steep river canyon. The wind data are presented in terms of four flow regimes: upslope, afternoon, downslope, and a synoptically driven regime. There were notable differences in the data collected from the two terrain types. For example, wind speeds on the isolated mountain increased with distance upslope during upslope flow, but generally decreased with distance upslope at the river canyon site during upslope flow. In a downslope flow, wind speed did not have a consistent trend with position on the isolated mountain, but generally increased with distance upslope at the river canyon site. The highest measured speeds occurred during the passage of frontal systems on the isolated mountain. Mountaintop winds were often twice as high as wind speeds measured on the surrounding plain. The highest speeds measured in the river canyon occurred during late morning hours and were from easterly down-canyon flows, presumably associated with surface pressure gradients induced by formation of a regional thermal trough to the west and high pressure to the east. Under periods of weak synoptic forcing, surface winds tended to be decoupled from large-scale flows, and under periods of strong synoptic forcing, variability in surface winds was sufficiently large due to terrain-induced mechanical effects (speed-up over ridges and decreased speeds on leeward sides of terrain obstacles) that a large-scale mean flow would not be representative of surface winds at most locations on or within the terrain feature. These findings suggest that traditional operational weather model (i.e., with numerical grid resolutions of around 4 km or larger) wind predictions are not likely to be good predictors of local near-surface winds on sub-grid scales in complex terrain. Measurement data can be found at http://www.firemodels.org/index.php/windninja-introduction/windninja-publications.

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Short summary
Interest in numerical wind models continues to increase, especially for models that can simulate winds at relatively high spatial resolution (~100m). However, limited observational data exist for evaluation of model predictive performance. This study presents high-resolution surface wind data sets collected from an isolated mountain and a steep river canyon. The data are available to the public at http://www.firemodels.org/index.php/windninja-introduction/windninja-publications.
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