Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
23 January 2017

Effects of cloud condensation nuclei and ice nucleating particles on precipitation processes and supercooled liquid in mixed-phase orographic clouds



How orographic mixed-phase clouds respond to the change in cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and ice nucleating particles (INPs) is highly uncertain. The main snow production mechanism in warm and cold mixed-phase orographic clouds (referred to as WMOCs and CMOCs, respectively, distinguished here as those having cloud tops warmer and colder than −20 °C) could be very different. We quantify the CCN and INP impacts on supercooled water content, cloud phases, and precipitation for a WMOC case and a CMOC case, with sensitivity tests using the same CCN and INP concentrations between the WMOC and CMOC cases. It was found that deposition plays a more important role than riming for forming snow in the CMOC case, while the role of riming dominates in the WMOC case. As expected, adding CCN suppresses precipitation, especially in WMOCs and low INPs. However, this reverses strongly for CCN of 1000 cm−3 and larger. We found a new mechanism through which CCN can invigorate mixed-phase clouds over the Sierra Nevada and drastically intensify snow precipitation when CCN concentrations are high (1000 cm−3 or higher). In this situation, more widespread shallow clouds with a greater amount of cloud water form in the Central Valley and foothills west of the mountain range. The increased latent heat release associated with the formation of these clouds strengthens the local transport of moisture to the windward slope, invigorating mixed-phase clouds over the mountains, and thereby producing higher amounts of snow precipitation. Under all CCN conditions, increasing the INPs leads to decreased riming and mixed-phase fraction in the CMOC as a result of liquid-limited conditions, but has the opposite effects in the WMOC as a result of ice-limited conditions. However, precipitation in both cases is increased by increasing INPs due to an increase in deposition for the CMOC, but enhanced riming and deposition in the WMOC. Increasing the INPs dramatically reduces supercooled water content and increases the cloud glaciation temperature, while increasing CCN has the opposite effect with much smaller significance.
“Effects Of Cloud Condensation Nuclei And Ice Nucleating Particles On Precipitation Processes And Supercooled Liquid In Mixed-Phase Orographic Clouds”. 2017. Atmospheric Chemistry And Physics 17: 1017-1035. doi:10.5194/acp-17-1017-2017.
Funding Program Area(s)