P rediction o f f rontogenetically f orced p recipitation b ands
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P REDICTION O F F RONTOGENETICALLY F ORCED P RECIPITATION B ANDS. PETER C. BANACOS NWS / Storm Prediction Center WDTB Winter Weather Workshop IV Boulder, CO ~ 23 July 2003. O UTLINE. Frontogenesis …where it fits in the forecast process kinematics and dynamics of frontogenesis

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P rediction o f f rontogenetically f orced p recipitation b ands



NWS / Storm Prediction Center

WDTB Winter Weather Workshop IV

Boulder, CO ~ 23 July 2003

O utline


  • Frontogenesis

    • …where it fits in the forecast process

    • kinematics and dynamics of frontogenesis

    • synoptic pattern recognition

    • Case #1 – examine band formation

  • Mesoscale Banding Characteristics

    • modulation by local wind profile

    • col point aloft

    • modulation by stability

    • Case #2 – numerical model considerations

I ngredients b ased f orecasting


  • Purpose: To focus the forecaster on the necessary conditions (“ingredients”) needed for a specific meteorological event to take place.

  • Frontogenesis is a lifting/forcing mechanism.

Frontogenesis definition

Frontogenesis (definition)

(S. Petterssen 1936)

  • The 2-D scalar frontogenesis function (F ) – quantifies the change in horizontal (potential) temperature gradient following air parcel motion :

  • F > 0 frontogenesis, F < 0 frontolysis

  • Conceptually, the local change in horizontal temperature gradient near an existing front, baroclinic zone, or feature as it moves.

Vector frontogenesis function

Vector Frontogenesis Function

(Keyser et al. 1988, 1992)

  • Change in magnitude

  • Corresponds to vertical motion on the frontal scale (mesoscale bands)

  • Change in direction (rotation)

  • Corresponds to vertical motion on the scale of the baroclinic wave itself

  • F is of fundamental importance…

    • Galilean invariant

    • full wind generalization of the quasi-geostrophic Q-vector

Kinematics of frontogenesis

Kinematics of Frontogenesis

  • The geometry of the horizontal flow has a first-order influence on F in most situations.

    Examine separate contributions of

    horizontal divergence, deformation,

    and vorticity to the field of


  • Note: Will focus exclusively on the Petterssen 2-D scalar frontogenesis (Fn)

Horizontal divergence

Horizontal Divergence

  • Divergence (Convergence) acts frontolytically (frontogenetically), always, irrespective of isotherm orientation.



Horizontal deformation

Horizontal Deformation

Flow fields involving deformation acting frontogenetically are prominent in the majority of banded precipitation cases.


Horizontal deformation cont

Horizontal Deformation (cont.)


Need to consider orientation of isotherms relative to axis of dilatation.

Vertical vorticity

Vertical Vorticity

Pure vorticity acts to rotate isotherms, cannot tighten or weaken them.


Other contributing factors to frontogenesis

Other Contributing Factors to Frontogenesis

The kinematic field, and deformation in particular, plays the most prominent role in the 2-D frontogenesis aloft.

Other processes such as diabatic heating and tilting effects may also contribute to frontogenesis.

  • Examples:

    • differential solar heating

    • Latent heating with convective motions (documented in coastal frontogenesis process).

Dynamics of frontogenesis vertical circulation

Dynamics of Frontogenesis (vertical circulation)

Flow field dominated by deformation.

Dynamics of frontogenesis cont

Dynamics of Frontogenesis (cont.)

Ageostrophic circulation develops as a response to increasing temperature gradient.

Dynamics of frontogenesis cont1

Dynamics of Frontogenesis (cont.)

  • When we talk about frontogenesis forcing, it’s the resulting ageostrophic circulation we are most interested in for precipitation forecasting.

Forecasting applications

Forecasting Applications

Use of frontogenesis in forecasting

Use of Frontogenesis in Forecasting

  • Presence of F in 850-500mb layer can help diagnose and predict areas of heavy banded precipitation.

  • Potential for banding can be assessed using F field in numerical models, with placement of banding refined in <12 hour period.

  • New graphic forecast tools allow location of banded precipitation to be conveyed to the user.

Common synoptic patterns

Common Synoptic Patterns

  • Forecast premise for mesoscale banding:

  • Requires a strengthening baroclinic zone in the presence of sufficient moisture for precipitation (AND – for snow, the proper thermal stratification).

  • Large-scale deformation zones are BY FAR AND AWAY the most common means of manifesting areas of frontogenesis within the 850-500mb layer.

  • Does NOT require a strong surface cyclone, only a low-mid tropospheric baroclinic zone


  • Bands associated with surface cyclogenesis

  • Bands not associated with surface cyclogenesis

I c yclogenetic p attern


NW of surface cyclone --“wrap around precipitation”

Mature Stage

Decaying Stage

Northwest of strong cyclone 1 6 02

Northwest of Strong Cyclone 1/6/02

Snowfall accumulations

Snowfall Accumulations

Ii frontal weak cyclogenesis pattern

II. Frontal / Weak Cyclogenesis Pattern

  • Confluent flow ~700mb in advance of a positive tilt trough.

  • Weak or non-existent surface wave cyclone along surface front.

  • Seems to be most common in the Central and Northern Plains with quasi-stationary arctic boundaries.

Within strong e w frontal zone 3 13 02

Within Strong E-W Frontal Zone3/13/02

Example case of frontogenesis and banded precipitation

Example Case of Frontogenesis and Banded Precipitation

Date: 15 October 2001 (Case #1)

  • Narrow band (1-2 counties wide) of moderate to heavy rainfall from eastern KS to central IL.

  • Associated with weak surface features but a moderately strong baroclinic zone and frontogenesis forcing.

700mb 00z 15 oct 01

700mb 00z 15 OCT 01

Surface 15 oct 2001

Surface 15 OCT 2001



925mb 12z 15 oct 01

925mb 12z 15 OCT 01

Large-scale deformation field - eastern KS and western MO

P rediction o f f rontogenetically f orced p recipitation b ands

18z 15 OCT 01

18z mosaic base reflectivity and surface observations

18z 600mb Frontogenesis

P rediction o f f rontogenetically f orced p recipitation b ands

  • Rainfall rates between 0.10” and 0.25” occurred for a 6 hour period from 15-20z.

  • Moderate to heavy precipitation can persist longer (12+ hours) with slower moving systems or mature extratropical cyclones.

Topeka ks 12z 15 oct 01

Topeka, KS 12z 15 OCT 01

700mb frontogenesis base reflectivity

700mb Frontogenesis / Base Reflectivity

0 hr ETA 12z

6 hr ETA 18z



  • Organization of precipitation increases as F orientation becomes aligned with isotherm orientation at lower levels.

Sloped continuity of f

Sloped Continuity of F

600 mb

6hr ETA forecast valid

18z 15 OCT 01

700 mb

850 mb

  • Presence of parallel axes of positive frontogenesis sloping upward toward colder air is a common aspect of heavy banded precipitation areas.

Sloped continuity of f1

Sloped Continuity of F

The plane of the cross-section should be taken perpendicular to the mid-level (850-500mb) thermal wind vector or thickness lines.

Sloped continuity of frontogenesis forcing cont

Sloped Continuity of Frontogenesis Forcing (cont.)

  • The previous two slides have several important implications:

  • Several levels (or a x-section) should be assessed for spatial continuity and orientation of F, to see if banding is likely to occur at a given time.

  • Vertical averaging should probably be avoided.

  • The sloped continuity tells us something about the structure of the wind field we can use to infer frontogenesis from single sounding (observed or model derived), VAD, or wind profiler data, and large-scale flow fields.

Role of deep layer shear profile

Role of Deep-Layer Shear Profile

Nature of environmental wind profile may be conducive to “seeder-feeder” mechanism and rapid precipitation generation / elongation of bands during initial development phase.

Role of deep layer shear cont

Role of Deep-Layer Shear (cont.)

Martin (1998)

  • Note banding orientation (parallel to isentropes / isotherms).

Vertical wind profile and banding

Vertical Wind Profile and banding

Idealized Hodographs:

 Col point aloft

Mesoscale band variations

Mesoscale Band Variations

  • Band movement (short and long-axis translation)

  • Warm season vs. cool season bands

  • Multiple parallel bands (stability driven)

  • - Non-banded (the “null wind structure”)

Banded cold season 3 10z 12 29 02

Banded – Cold Season 3-10Z 12/29/02

Mosaic radar 8z 12 29 02

Mosaic Radar 8z 12/29/02

  • RUC 2h frontogenesis forecast 850mb

1 5 o base velocity vad spokane wa 0854z 12 29 02

1.5o Base Velocity / VAD – Spokane, WA0854z 12/29/02

Frontogenesis coincident with col point / straight shear

Banded warm season 12z 6 27 01

Banded – Warm Season 12Z 6/27/01

Training thunderstorms, in gravitationally unstable environment

VIS 1500Z

TLX 1459Z

Banded translation along short axis north dakota 0256z 1 26 03

Banded – Translation along short axisNorth Dakota 0256z 1/26/03

Two problems for heavy precip:

Moisture starved, and moving fast

Non banded 0256z 12 25 02

Non-Banded 0256z 12/25/02

Non banded 0256z 12 25 021

Non-Banded 0256z 12/25/02

Note strong curvature to the shear vector with height. This tends to preclude coherent banding, even in the presence of frontogenesis.

Banded multiple 11 09 00

Banded- Multiple 11/09/00

Montgomery Co. 

INX 0903Z

Unlike Case #1, this case shows narrow multiple banded precipitation. Lower stability likely played a role.

700 500mb lapse rate comparison

700-500mb Lapse Rate Comparison

SGF 12z


TOP 12z


7.8 C/km

4.5 C/km

Near neutral or unstable lapse rates (with respect to a moist adiabat) implies multiple narrow and intense (maybe 5-10 km or so in width), bands. Resulted in 2-3”/hr snowfall rates on Nov 9, 2000.

Modulation of band intensity by instability for a constant value of f

Modulation of Band Intensity by Instability for a constant value of F

As gravitational or symmetric stability decreases, the horizontal scale of the band decreases while the intensity of the band increases. Multiple bands become established in an unstable regime.

Using epv to measure stability

UsingEPVto Measure Stability

  • EPV = Equivalent Potential Vorticity

  • A relatively simple, quick, and effective way to evaluate CSI/MSI. Gravitational instability may also be present.

  • Defined by Moore and Lambert (1993) as follows:

(TERM 1)

(TERM 2)

  • The closer EPV is to zero, the more responsive the atmosphere will be to a given amount of forcing.

  • IF EPV<0 , then CSI/MSI is present. Overlaying EPV with theta-e is an effective way to determine if convective (gravitational) instability also exists.

Using epv to measure stability1

Using EPV to Measure Stability

An example from Moore and Lambert (1993)

Frontogenesis and symmetric instability

Frontogenesis and Symmetric Instability

Cloud layer stratificaiton comparison

Cloud-Layer Stratificaiton Comparison

Bismarck VAD

2-D 750mb frontogenesis

21z RUC Forecast valid at 00z

0018Z 22 Oct 02



Eta 0h epv 00z 10 22 02

ETA 0h EPV 00z 10/22/02

700mb (thick dashed line)

600mb (thin dashed line)

0018Z 22 Oct 02

Multiple bands exist here in negative EPV regime over Montana.

00z soundings 10 22 02

00z Soundings 10/22/02

Great Falls, MT

Bismarck, ND

700-500mb lapse rate: 5.1 C/km

700-500mb lapse rate: 6.7 C/km

850-500mb lapse rate: 3.5 C/km

Numerical model considerations

Numerical Model Considerations

  • Date: 7 February 2003 (Case #2)

  • Heavy snow band across southern New England

  • QPF/ 700mb UVV field: may not tell you what you need to know, even for a “well-handled” system:

  • “What you see isn’t always what you get”

2 7 03 09z ruc forecast qpf uvv

2/7/03 09Z RUC Forecast QPF/UVV

2 7 03 09z ruc forecast 700mb warm advection

2/7/03 09Z RUC Forecast 700mb Warm Advection

2 7 03 mosaic radar 1215z 0022z

2/7/03 Mosaic Radar 1215z-0022z

2 7 03 mosaic radar ruc 700mb f

2/7/03 Mosaic Radar / RUC 700mb F

Profiler plymouth ma

Profiler – Plymouth, MA

Boston ma surface observations

Boston, MA Surface Observations

BOS 13 UTC 1 1/2SM –SN

BOS 14 UTC 1/2 SM SN

BOS 15 UTC 1/2 SM SN SNINCR 1/ 2

BOS 16 UTC 1/2 SM SN SNINCR 1/ 3

BOS 17 UTC 1/2 SM SN SNINCR 2/ 4

BOS 18 UTC 1/4 SM +SN SNINCR 2/ 6

BOS 19 UTC 1/4 SM +SN SNINCR 2/ 8

BOS 20 UTC 1/4 SM +SN SNINCR 2/10

BOS 21 UTC 1/4 SM SN SNINCR 1/10

BOS 22 UTC 1/4 SM -SN


BOS 00 UTC 10 SM

700 mb

F, 18Z

Snowfall accumulations 2 7 03

Snowfall Accumulations 2/7/03

  • Inadequate resolution likely precluded evidence of band in UVV / QPF fields.

Suggested snow band checklist

Suggested Snow Band Checklist

  • Presence of (1”/hr):

  • limited dry air advection in near surface.

  • near saturated / high low-mid level RH present (east CONUS, 1000-500mb >85%)

  • Favorable thermodynamic profile for snow (i.e. cloud top temp <-9C, no melting layers)

  • Sloped region of mid-level 2-D frontogenesis / Deformation axis in 850-500mb range

  • Relative minimum in wind speed (<20kt) within 850-700mb region (col point aloft) and/or uniform deep-layer shear profile absence of substantial hodograph curvature

Suggested snow band checklist cont

Suggested Snow Band Checklist (cont.)

  • Enhancement of (1-3”/hr, 5”/hr in extreme cases):

  • Saturation through dendrite growth layer (-12 to –16C) coincident with strong UVV(high precipitation efficiency)

  • Presence of negative EPV, elevated potential or slantwise instability (convective snow potential, band multiplicity)



  • When applied within the context of ingredients based forecasting, frontogenesis is useful for assessing potential for mesoscale banded precipitation areas.

  • Doesn’t require a strong cyclone, only a strong baroclinic zone, often developed through horizontal deformation and associated w/ a col point aloft

  • Col point aloft = YOUR cue to investigate F and banding potential

  • Location of col point aloft = approximate band location

  • Banding is modulated by wind structure and stability

  • Banding is not always represented by the models

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