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Mammatus Clouds as a Response to Cloud-Base Radiative Heating

Garrett, T., C. Schmidt, S. Kihlgren, and C. Cornét (2010), Mammatus Clouds as a Response to Cloud-Base Radiative Heating, J. Atmos. Sci., 67, 3891-3903, doi:10.1175/2010JAS3513.1.

Mammatus clouds are the pouchlike lobes seen hanging from mid- to high-level clouds. They can look quite dramatic, but they are also interesting because they provide clues to what controls anvil cirrus dynamic evolution. Thus far, the most commonly accepted explanation for observed subsidence of mammatus lobes is that they are driven by evaporative cooling of precipitation, accelerated by mixing with dry subcloud air. Here, an alternative explanation is proposed: radiative temperature contrasts between cloud base and the lower troposphere destabilize cloudy air to create a rapidly deepening mixed layer, which creates positively buoyant intrusions of dry air into the cloud interior; mammatus lobes are just the descending branch of the resulting circulations. In this regard, mammatus cloud fields might be considered an upside-down analog to the radiatively driven formation of ‘‘cloud holes’’ seen at the tops of stratocumulus layers.

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Radiation Science Program (RSP)