Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I got to thinking about the effect of thunderstorms on the surface air temperature. So I figured I’d wander once more through the TAO buoy dataset. The data is available here. I swear, every time I perambulate through that data I get surprised, and I learn things, and this was no exception.
I decided to look at the relationship between sea surface temperature (SST), surface air temperature (SAT), and rainfall. Figure 1 is a graph showing all three of those variables from one of the TAO buoys.
Figure 1. Hourly data from the TAO buoy at 0°N, 156°E (in the Pacific warm pool north of the Solomon Islands). This shows both rainy and dry hours. Black line shows a 1:1 slope, where a 1° rise in SST is equalled by a 1° rise in SAT. Both color and size indicate rain amount. N = 9,067 observations
So … just what are we seeing here? And what might I learn from it?
I went into this to see how much thunderstorms affect surface air temperature and sea surface temperature. Now, I was surprised by the shape of this graph. The first thing I concluded is that we’re seeing two different regimes here. One is what is happening during the thunderstorms, and the other is what’s happening during the dry hours.
I also note the well-known SST limitation of just over 30°C. Only 0.4% of the sea surface temperature measurements in the total dataset are over 31°C (N = 62,507).
Next, it’s clear that thunderstorms are temperature limited. To investigate that, I looked at solely the hours which had measurable rain. Figure 2 shows just those records.
Figure 2. Rainy hours only of the hourly data from the TAO buoy at 0°N, 156°E (in the Pacific warm pool north of the Solomon Islands). Black line shows a 1:1 slope, where a 1° rise in SST is equalled by a 1° rise in SAT. Both the color and size indicate rain amount. N = 422 observations
As you can see, the thunderstorms have a clear minimum temperature. They are unable to persist with a temperature of much less than about 29.5°C. It’s also clear that the greater the rain, the greater the depression of the air temperature and the sea surface temperature. And as you’d expect, the depression in air temperature from the thunderstorm is larger than the depression in SST. Air temperatures drop up to maybe 3°C, from 28° or 29° down to 25° to 26°, whereas sea temperatures only drop up to about 1°C, from say 30.5° down to 29.5°C.
Finally, here are the records of only the dry times, the times without an active thunderstorm overhead. Figure 3 shows those hours when no rain is falling.
Figure 3. Dry hours only of the hourly data from the TAO buoy at 0°N, 156°E (in the Pacific warm pool north of the Solomon Islands). Black line shows a 1:1 slope, where a 1° rise in SST is equalled by a 1° rise in SAT. N = 8,645 observations
Note that both the SAT and the SST move in parallel much of the time (black line). I would say that the residual observations in the lower central area represent the colder air and colder ocean temperatures that remain after a thunderstorm when it has stopped raining.
• Thunderstorms cause the coldest air temperatures in the record, well below the temperatures when there is no thunderstorm activity.
• Thunderstorms drive air temperatures down by up to 3°C or so, and sea surface temperatures down by up to 1°C or so.
• This ability to drive the surface temperature well below the normal temperature is the sign that the thunderstorms function as a governor, rather than as a feedback.
At least that’s how I interpret the graphs, YMMV of course. Dang TAO data … always turning up new stuff to puzzle my cranium …
My regards to you all,