Water, water everywhere in the sky, but not much fell on the ground

Yesterday was a disappointment.  Oodles of water up there above us, as represented by cloud bases somewhere around 15 Celsius  (59 F) yesterday morning, early Cumulonimbus activity–one was up toward Oracle by 10:37 AM–Oracle got 1.06 inches yesterday, but while the skies darkened over Catalina several times, they didn’t “unload.”  Maybe only once or twice before in six summers have I seen this darkening to the level we had yesterday, without a rain shaft soon falling out of it.  A couple of examples from yesterday:

1:29 PM.  A Cumulus congestus takes shape over Cat State Park, and heads toward Catalina.
1:29 PM. A Cumulus congestus takes shape over Cat State Park, and heads toward Catalina.  Only sprinkles fell.
2:40 PM, looking toward Charoleau Gap.  It doesn't get more "portenful" than this. I was SURE a shaft would crash down, and with it, the WIND from the north, the clouds then building over ME to the south, as happens so often when heavy rains pour down on the Gap.  Didn't happen, at least not until too late, long after it had moved farther north.
2:40 PM, looking toward Charoleau Gap. It doesn’t get more “portenful” than this. I was SURE a shaft would crash down, and with it, the WIND from the north, the clouds then building over ME to the south, as happens so often when heavy rains pour down on the Gap. Didn’t happen, at least not until too late, long after it had moved farther north. Got pretty dejected.

So, what went wrong?  Why were the clouds SO DARK, even shallow ones like Stratocumulus, let alone the Cumulus congestus, but with so little “emitting power”?

The darkness of these clouds was surely due to the high smoky aerosol content of the air that led to unusually high droplet concentrations in these clouds.   The higher the droplet concentrations, the darker the bottom of the cloud, say holding cloud depth constant.  So, a moderately deep cloud, but one too shallow to rain, can look like these, like the normal darkness on the bottom from which blinding shafts of rain fall.  So, most likely we were looking at smog-laden clouds, the kinds of ones in our future around the world because that’s what we do, produce smog and smoke, well, us and lightning.

And, as we recall from Squires and Twomey (1967), smoke inhibits the formation of rain in clouds. I am sure most of you remember that article about smoke and sugar cane fires in Australia, and how those smoked up clouds did not rain like the ones around them that were “clean.”  This phenomenon has been reported on numerous occasions since, like how in LA it helps reduce drizzle (mist rain) occurrences.

However, as we know, even smoked up clouds can rain IF they get high enough to reach the -10 C level here because then copious amounts of ice, soft hail and snow will form aloft, and down it will come!  That only happened in isolated places, like over Oracle where they got that inch of rain (at least around here).  So another cause of dark clouds lacking in downspouts was that they were not QUITE deep enough for the tops to reach -10 C. up around 20,000 feet above the ground yesterday–those tops were SURELY so close, though!

Back to smoke effects.  With bases as warm as 10-15 C yesterday, there should have been rain formed without ice, and almost certainly a little did (these eyeballs detected some yesterday afternoon on the Catalinas).  However, this is the type of rain that smoke inhibits most.  This is because with so many cloud droplets competing for a given amount of condensation, they all stay too small to  collide and stick together (requires drops bigger than 30 micrometers in diameter (let us not forget Hocking and Jonas (1970)….  So, we lost some rain due to smoky skies there, too,

Next, it can be relatively cool with tremendous amounts of rain IF there is a good disturbance to cluster the clouds together, forcing converging air near the ground, taking it away at Cirrus levels.  We didn’t have a “disturbance”, a trough or a low to help out.

Finally, without the help aloft, we needed, as you can all guess by now, that bit more heating at the ground, maybe just a few degrees was all to launch some really large but isolated storms.

Today?

U of AZ 11 PM mod run has Cbs developing over the Catalinas by noon, and during the afternoon some of those showers trail to the northwest over Catalina.  I think one will.   So, once again we have a day with rain around, and maybe today a little cell will bombard us with a quarter of an inch.  Should be warmer, today and that will help since again we have no trough help.  Still smoky, as you can see here at sunrise by that orange-brown layer below this morning’s Cirrus.  So, once again, the clouds may look a bit darker than they “should” when we have clean air.

The End except for this nice morning shot of Ac perlucidus undulatus I would call it.  Very nice!

6:54 AM.  Altocumulus perlucidus undulatus, if you care.
6:54 AM. Altocumulus perlucidus undulatus, if you care.