The impact of size sorting on the polarimetric radar variables

Matthew R. Kumjian, Alexander V. Ryzhkov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Differential sedimentation of precipitation occurs because heavier hydrometeors fall faster than lighter ones. Updrafts and vertical wind shear can maintain this otherwise transient size sorting, resulting in prolonged regions of ongoing particle sorting in storms. This study quantifies the impact of size sorting on the S-band polarimetric radar variables (radar reflectivity factor at horizontal polarization Z H, differential reflectivity Z DR, specific differential phase K DP, and the copolar cross-correlation coefficient phv). These variables are calculated from output of two idealized bin models: a one-dimensional model of pure raindrop fallout and a two-dimensional rain shaft encountering vertical wind shear. Additionally, errors in the radar variables as simulated by single-, double-, and triple-moment bulk microphysics parameterizations are quantified for the same size sorting scenarios. Size sorting produces regions of sparsely concentrated large drops with a lack of smaller drops, causing Z DR enhancements as large as 1 dB in areas of decreased Z H, often along a Z H gradient. Such areas of enhanced Z DR are offset from those of high Z H and K DP. Illustrative examples of polarimetric radar observations in a variety of precipitation regimes demonstrate the widespread occurrence of size sorting and are consistent with the bin model simulations. Single-moment schemes are incapable of size sorting, leading to large underestimations in Z DR (>2 dB) compared to the bin model solution. Double-moment schemes with a fixed spectral shape parameter produce excessive size sorting by incorrectly increasing the number of large raindrops, overestimating Z DR by 2-3 dB. Three-moment schemes with variable shape parameters better capture the narrowing drop size distribution resulting from size sorting but can underestimate Z DR and overestimate K DP by as much as 20%. Implications for polarimetric radar data assimilation into storm-scale numerical weather prediction models are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2042-2060
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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