Cumulus clouds are pervasive on earth, and play important roles in the transfer of energy through the atmosphere. Under certain conditions, shallow, nonprecipitating cumuli may grow vertically to occupy a significant depth of the troposphere, and subsequently may evolve into convective storms. The qualifier “convective” implies that the storms have vertical accelerations that are driven primarily, though not exclusively, by buoyancy over a deep layer. Such buoyancy in the atmosphere arises from local density variations relative to some base state density; the base state is typically idealized as a horizontal average over a large area, which is also considered the environment. Quantifications of atmospheric buoyancy are typically expressed in terms of temperature and humidity, and allow for an assessment of the likelihood that convective clouds will form or initiate. Convection initiation is intimately linked to existence of a mechanism by which air is vertically lifted to realize this buoyancy and thus accelerations. Weather fronts and orography are the canonical lifting mechanisms. As modulated by an ambient or environmental distribution of temperature, humidity, and wind, weather fronts also facilitate the transition of convective clouds into storms with locally heavy rain, lightning, and other possible hazards. For example, in an environment characterized by winds that are weak and change little with distance above the ground, the storms tend to be short lived and benign. The structure of the vertical drafts and other internal storm processes under weak wind shear—i.e., a small change in the horizontal wind over some vertical distance—are distinct relative to those when the environmental wind shear is strong. In particular, strong wind shear in combination with large buoyancy favors the development of squall lines and supercells, both of which are highly coherent storm types. Besides having durations that may exceed a few hours, both of these storm types tend to be particularly hazardous: squall lines are most apt to generate swaths of damaging “straight-line” winds, and supercells spawn the most intense tornadoes and are responsible for the largest hail. Methods used to predict convective-storm hazards capitalize on this knowledge of storm formation and development.
R. J. Trapp
Charles A. Doswell III
Convective storms are the result of a disequilibrium created by solar heating in the presence of abundant low-level moisture, resulting in the development of buoyancy in ascending air. Buoyancy typically is measured by the Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) associated with air parcels. When CAPE is present in an environment with strong vertical wind shear (winds changing speed and/or direction with height), convective storms become increasingly organized and more likely to produce hazardous weather: strong winds, large hail, heavy precipitation, and tornadoes. Because of their associated hazards and their impact on society, in some nations (notably, the United States), there arose a need to have forecasts of convective storms. Pre-20th-century efforts to forecast the weather were hampered by a lack of timely weather observations and by the mathematical impossibility of direct solution of the equations governing the weather. The first severe convective storm forecaster was J. P. Finley, who was an Army officer, and he was ordered to cease his efforts at forecasting in 1887. Some Europeans like Alfred Wegener studied tornadoes as a research topic, but there was no effort to develop convective storm forecasting. World War II aircraft observations led to the recognition of limited storm science in the topic of convective storms, leading to a research program called the Thunderstorm Product that concentrated diverse observing systems to learn more about the structure and evolution of convective storms. Two Air Force officers, E. J. Fawbush and R. C. Miller, issued the first tornado forecasts in the modern era, and by 1953 the U.S. Weather Bureau formed a Severe Local Storms forecasting unit (SELS, now designated the Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service). From the outset of the forecasting efforts, it was evident that more convective storm research was needed. SELS had an affiliated research unit called the National Severe Storms Project, which became the National Severe Storms Laboratory in 1963. Thus, research and operational forecasting have been partners from the outset of the forecasting efforts in the United States—with major scientific contributions from the late T. T. Fujita (originally from Japan), K. A. Browning (from the United Kingdom), R. A. Maddox, J. M. Fritsch, C. F. Chappell, J. B. Klemp, L. R. Lemon, R. B. Wilhelmson, R. Rotunno, M. Weisman, and numerous others. This has resulted in the growth of considerable scientific understanding about convective storms, feeding back into the improvement in convective storm forecasting since it began in the modern era. In Europe, interest in both convective storm forecasting and research has produced a European Severe Storms Laboratory and an experimental severe convective storm forecasting group. The development of computers in World War II created the ability to make numerical simulations of convective storms and numerical weather forecast models. These have been major elements in the growth of both understanding and forecast accuracy. This will continue indefinitely.
A typhoon is a highly organized storm system that develops from initial cyclone eddies and matures by sucking up from the warm tropical oceans large quantities of water vapor that condense at higher altitudes. This latent heat of condensation is the prime source of energy supply that strengthens the typhoon as it progresses across the Pacific Ocean. A typhoon differs from other tropical cyclones only on the basis of location. While hurricanes form in the Atlantic Ocean and eastern North Pacific Ocean, typhoons develop in the western North Pacific around the Philippines, Japan, and China. Because of their violent histories with strong winds and torrential rains and their impact on society, the countries that ring the North Pacific basin—China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan—all often felt the need for producing typhoon forecasts and establishing storm warning services. Typhoon accounts in the pre-instrumental era were normally limited to descriptions of damage and incidences, and subsequent studies were hampered by the impossibility of solving the equations governing the weather, as they are distinctly nonlinear. The world’s first typhoon forecast was made in 1879 by Fr. Federico Faura, who was a Jesuit scientist from the Manila Observatory. His brethren from the Zikawei Jesuit Observatory, Fr. Marc Dechevrens, first reconstructed the trajectory of a typhoon in 1879, a study that marked the beginning of an era. The Jesuits and other Europeans like William Doberck studied typhoons as a research topic, and their achievements are regarded as products of colonial meteorology. Between the First and Second World Wars, there were important contributions to typhoon science by meteorologists in the Philippines (Ch. Deppermann, M. Selga, and J. Coronas), China (E. Gherzi), and Japan (T. Okada, and Y. Horiguti). The polar front theory developed by the Bergen School in Norway played an important role in creating the large-scale setting for tropical cyclones. Deppermann became the greatest exponent of the polar front theory and air-masses analysis in the Far East and Southeast Asia. From the end of WWII, it became evident that more effective typhoon forecasts were needed to meet military demands. In Hawaii, a joint Navy and Air Force center for typhoon analysis and forecasting was established in 1959—the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). Its goals were to publish annual typhoon summaries and conduct research into tropical cyclone forecasting and detection. Other centers had previously specialized in issuing typhoon warnings and analysis. Thus, research and operational forecasting went hand in hand not only in the American JTWC but also in China (the Hong Kong Observatory, the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau), Japan (the Regional Specialized Meteorological Center), and the Philippines (Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration [PAGASA]). These efforts produced more precise scientific knowledge about the formation, structure, and movement of typhoons. In the 1970s and the 1980s, three new tools for research—three-dimensional numerical cloud models, Doppler radar, and geosynchronous satellite imagery—provided a new observational and dynamical perspective on tropical cyclones. The development of modern computing systems has offered the possibility of making numerical weather forecast models and simulations of tropical cyclones. However, typhoons are not mechanical artifacts, and forecasting their track and intensity remains an uncertain science.
Even though many features of the vegetation and of the soil moisture distribution over Africa reflect its climatic zones, the land surface has the potential to feed back on the atmosphere and on the climate of Africa. The land surface and the atmosphere communicate via the surface energy budget. A particularly important control of the land surface, besides its control on albedo, is on the partitioning between sensible and latent heat flux. In a soil moisture-limited regime, for instance, an increase in soil moisture leads to an increase in latent heat flux at the expanse of the sensible heat flux. The result is a cooling and a moistening of the planetary boundary layer. On the one hand, this thermodynamically affects the atmosphere by altering the stability and the moisture content of the vertical column. Depending on the initial atmospheric profile, convection may be enhanced or suppressed. On the other hand, a confined perturbation of the surface state also has a dynamical imprint on the atmospheric flow by generating horizontal gradients in temperature and pressure. Such gradients spin up shallow circulations that affect the development of convection. Whereas the importance of such circulations for the triggering of convection over the Sahel region is well accepted and well understood, the effect of such circulations on precipitation amounts as well as on mature convective systems remains unclear. Likewise, the magnitude of the impact of large-scale perturbations of the land surface state on the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere, such as the West African monsoon, has long been debated. One key issue is that such interactions have been mainly investigated in general circulation models where the key involved processes have to rely on uncertain parameterizations, making a definite assessment difficult.
Rainfall over Africa varies across timescales of a few days to several weeks due to several tropical and extratropical modes of variability. Excessive rains or prolonged drought regularly result in natural disasters and have thus a severe impact on the local economy, agriculture, spread of diseases, and entire ecosystems. The dynamical nature of the atmosphere allows the existence of planetary balanced modes, which are called Rossby waves, and smaller-scale unbalanced inertio-gravity (IG) waves. The former, which are more rotational, arise from the horizontal pressure gradient force, while for the latter gravity acts as the restoring force, making their flow pattern more divergent. The main source of variability in the extratropics stems from Rossby waves. At the equator, further types of convectively coupled equatorial waves (CCEWs) exist, namely Kelvin and mixed Rossby-gravity (MRG) waves. As the slowest intraseasonal tropical mode, the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO), which is related to Kelvin and Rossby waves, acts on a timescale of 30 to 90 days. Although it is primarily a planetary mode, the MJO has a specific “flavor” over the African continent. On the short intraseasonal timescale of 10 to 25 days, equatorial Rossby (ER) waves and the internal modes of the West African monsoon, the quasi-biweekly zonal dipole (QBZD) and the Sahel mode, modulate rainfall. On the synoptic timescale of a few days to a week, African easterly waves (AEWs) are a dominant mode over West Africa, whereas Kelvin waves predominantly modulate rainfall over equatorial Africa. Extratropical influences on northern and southern Africa manifest themselves in Rossby wave trains, which modulate synoptic to intraseasonal rainfall through tropical rainfall plumes, cold air surges, and upper-tropospheric dry air intrusions. Furthermore, the Saharan heat low (SHL) acts as a link between the northern hemispheric extratropics and tropics. Finally, the Indian monsoon, the Atlantic, Indian, and the Pacific Oceans can remotely affect the intraseasonal variability of African rainfall. Forecasting synoptic to intraseasonal rainfall variability is an integral part of seamless prediction between the weather and climate regimes. In the early 21st century, numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems can forecast larger intraseasonal signals such as the MJO several weeks into the future, but they still struggle to forecast shorter scale features reliably. Besides NWP, statistical models can successfully forecast intraseasonal variability of rainfall. Due to the relevance of synoptic to intraseasonal rainfall variability for African societies, early warning systems (EWSs) have been developed to mitigate impacts.
Western and Central Equatorial Africa (WCEA), home to the Congo rainforests, is the green heart of the otherwise dry continent of Africa. Despite its crucial role in the Earth system, WCEA’s climate variability has received little attention compared to the rest of Africa. Climate variability in the region is a result of complex interactions among various features acting on local and global scales. The mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) that have a preferentially westward propagation and present a distinct diurnal cycle are the main source of rainfall in the region. As a result of strong MCS activity, WCEA stands out as a convective anomaly within the tropics and experiences the world’s most intense thunderstorms as well as the highest lightning flash rates. The moisture of the region is supplied primarily from the Atlantic Ocean, with additional contributions from local recycling and East Africa. WCEA, in turn, serves as a moisture source for other parts of the continent. One striking characteristic of WCEA is its intrinsic heterogeneity with respect to interannual variability of rainfall, resulting in delineation of the region primarily in the zonal direction. This is in contrast to the meridionally oriented spatial variability of the annual cycle and underlines the fact that driving factors of the two can be quite different. The annual cycle is mainly determined by the seasonal excursion of the sun. However, the interannual and intraseasonal variability of the region are modulated by remote forcings from all three oceans, reflected via zonal atmospheric cells and equatorial wave dynamics. The local atmospheric jets and regional Walker-like circulations also contribute to WCEA’s climate variability by modulating the moisture transport and vertical motion. The region has experienced an increasing rate of deforestation in recent decades and has made a significant contribution to the global biomass burning emissions that can alter regional and global circulation, along with energy and water cycles. The mean annual temperature of the region has increased by about 1°C in the past 70 years. The annual rainfall over the same period presents a negative trend, though that is quite negligible in the eastern sector of the region.
Dynamical downscaling has been used for about 30 years to produce high-resolution climate information for studies of regional climate processes and for the production of climate information usable for vulnerability, impact assessment and adaptation studies. Three dynamical downscaling tools are available in the literature: high-resolution global atmospheric models (HIRGCMs), variable resolution global atmospheric models (VARGCMs), and regional climate models (RCMs). These techniques share their basic principles, but have different underlying assumptions, advantages and limitations. They have undergone a tremendous growth in the last decades, especially RCMs, to the point that they are considered fundamental tools in climate change research. Major intercomparison programs have been implemented over the years, culminating in the Coordinated Regional climate Downscaling EXperiment (CORDEX), an international program aimed at producing fine scale regional climate information based on multi-model and multi-technique approaches. These intercomparison projects have lead to an increasing understanding of fundamental issues in climate downscaling and in the potential of downscaling techniques to provide actionable climate change information. Yet some open issues remain, most notably that of the added value of downscaling, which are the focus of substantial current research. One of the primary future directions in dynamical downscaling is the development of fully coupled regional earth system models including multiple components, such as the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere and the chemosphere. Within this context, dynamical downscaling models offer optimal testbeds to incorporate the human component in a fully interactive way. Another main future research direction is the transition to models running at convection-permitting scales, order of 1–3 km, for climate applications. This is a major modeling step which will require substantial development in research and infrastructure, and will allow the description of local scale processes and phenomena within the climate change context. Especially in view of these future directions, climate downscaling will increasingly constitute a fundamental interface between the climate modeling and end-user communities in support of climate service activities.