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Precipitation dynamics in Ecuador and northern Peru during the 1991/92 El Nino: a remote sensing perspective

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The formation, dynamics and spatial distribution of heavy precipitation during the 1991/92 El Nino in Ecuador and northern Peru were examined by means of Meteosat-3 imagery, NOAA-AVHRR-based multichannel sea surface temperatures (MCSST) and additional meteorological observations. The Convective and Stratiform Technique (CST) was used for rain retrieval by means of Meteosat IR data and a cross-correlation approach was applied to Meteosat image sequences to derive cloud motion winds (CMW) which are essential for the analysis of circulation patterns leading to severe precipitation. From an analysis of 45 days with severe precipitation it is proven that three mechanisms were responsible for the formation of heavy rains. Each mechanism reveals a specific localized impact. (1) The most frequent mechanism (frequency of ~61%) represents an extended land-sea breeze system. During such weather conditions, predominantly locally confined precipitation patterns occured. Areas affected by the sea wind front during the day were the coastal plains up to the 1000 m contour line on the western Andean slope. Local maxima in the frequency of cloudiness leading to precipitation could be found at isolated peaks of a lower coastal cordillera. At night the highest frequency of precipitation was found over the warm water surface of the Gulf of Guayaquil, mainly due to its coastal shape which significantly favours convergence of the nocturnal land breeze. (2) Convection, initiated in the coastal plain and on the western Andean slopes during the afternoon, was significantly intensified by an entrainment of remainders of cirrus shields from the Amazon basin. These cloud fragments spilled over the Andes with well-developed trades in the mid/upper troposphere which blew in the opposite direction to the daily sea/up-slope breeze. The spill over points were characterized by areas of deep convection on the western Andean slopes and were frequently valley axes perpendicular to the mountain chain as well as the Andean depression in southern Ecuador. (3) During the main El Nino phase (March-April), heavy and persistent precipitation was extended over wide areas of the coastal plain showing neither a distinct diurnal cycle nor preferential areas. Deep convection was frequently organized in mesoscale convective complexes (MCC) and was spatially correlated with MCSST > 27 . The extensive instability of the troposphere during these weather conditions was marked by convective cloud streets and an intensification of the meridional Hadley circulation off the coast of southern Ecuador and Peru.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-02-15

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