The summer diurnal cycle of coastal cloudiness over west Iberia using Meteosat/SEVIRI and a WRF regional climate model simulation

Martins JPA, Cardoso RM, Soares PMM, Trigo I, Belo-Pereira M, Moreira N, Tomé R
nt. J. Climatol. 36: 1755–1772,

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The summer time cloud diurnal cycle over western Iberia is analysed here using a satellite climate data record of fractional cloud cover based on 9 years of Meteosat Second Generation observations which is distributed by the EUMETSAT's Climate Monitoring Satellite Applications Facility. These observations were complemented with a corresponding mean cloud diurnal cycle using SYNOP reports on six locations over the studied domain. It is shown that the main coastal mountain range separates regions that are characterized by two very different cloud regimes: stratocumulus-topped boundary layer convection dominates the region towards the coast and continental cumulus convection dominates the region to the east of these mountains. To explain the observed variability, a long-term regional climate model [Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF)] simulation over Iberia was used. A comparison of the observations against model output for the common period between observations and simulation shows that although the model generally underestimates cloudiness, it is able to represent the diurnal cycle in a realistic manner. It is shown that the observed cloud diurnal evolution is linked to the thermal circulations generated by the land-sea contrast and orography. The extent to which the cloud deck penetrates inland is closely related to the coastal orography: although smaller hills tend to enhance cloudiness, larger mountains block the progression of the marine boundary layer further inland, as it behaves as a density current. Larger mountains also produce katabatic flow and a rather strong subsidence aloft during the night. The warming due to this subsidence helps the blocking of the cloud deck as it is partially responsible for evaporating clouds, as shown by a potential temperature budget analysis.