Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
1 December 2013

Observed Scaling in Clouds and Precipitation and Scale Incognizance in Regional to Global Atmospheric Models



We use observations of robust scaling behavior in clouds and precipitation to derive constraints on how partitioning of precipitation should change with model resolution. Our analysis indicates that 90–99% of stratiform precipitation should occur in clouds that are resolvable by contemporary climate models (e.g., with 200 km or finer grid spacing). Furthermore, this resolved fraction of stratiform precipitation should increase sharply with resolution, such that effectively all stratiform precipitation should be resolvable above scales of  50 km. We show that the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM) and the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model also exhibit the robust cloud and precipitation scaling behavior that is present in observations, yet the resolved fraction of stratiform precipitation actually decreases with increasing model resolution. A suite of experiments with multiple dynamical cores provides strong evidence that this 'scale-incognizant' behavior originates in one of the CAM4 parameterizations.  An additional set of sensitivity experiments rules out both convection parameterizations, and by a process of elimination these results implicate the stratiform cloud and precipitation parameterization. Tests with the CAM5 physics package show improvements in the resolution-dependence of resolved cloud fraction and resolved stratiform precipitation fraction.

“Observed Scaling In Clouds And Precipitation And Scale Incognizance In Regional To Global Atmospheric Models”. 2013. Journal Of Climate. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00005.1.
Funding Program Area(s)