Tropical whoppers

While “only” 0.42 inches fell here (a great rain, really), and 0.43 inches at the ALERT gage on the CDO bridge at Lago Del Oro, Sutherland Heights got whooped with a whopping 1.75 inches yesterday afternoon in a remarkably dense and windy rainshaft.  But I am getting ahead of myself with this report and this sunset photo.  First some more precip reports,  here (ALERT gages) and here (U of AZ network).  “And the winner is…”  (as of 9:18 AM) for the greatest 24 h amount in ALL of Arizona, Bonita Canyon near the Chiricahua NM (2.06 inches) followed by Sutherland Heights!

Check the rainlog amounts above and here for CoCoRahs!

On to our story of the day, to be interrupted later by another learning module…

The day started like any other one, with our often observed morning Altocumulus perlucidus translucidus deck covering most of the sky. With the rising sun, Cumulus began to appear and grow rapidly with bases of those clouds topping the Samaniego Ridge line, something that is a rare occurrence.  By 10 AM, showers were already appearing on the Cat mountains; those towering Cumulus clouds had already reached the precip forming level.

By 10 AM, you should have been VERY excited, talking to the neighbors about the low and warm cloud bases; alerting them to possible exceptional rains.


6:49 AM.
9:29 AM.
10:11 AM. Little acorns are turning into giant sequoias already!








At this point, I feel I have to insert a diversionary learning module. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t care about what’s going on “way down inside” these Cumulus clouds, as Robert Plant might put it if he was a nephologist instead of with Led Zepelin, then skip this module.


Begin learning module.

With cloud bases as warm as 15 degrees C (close to 60 F!) almost certainly the first precip to form in yesterday’s clouds were drizzle drops (remember, to keep Cloud-Maven from getting mad at you, having “rain rage”, you have to remember that drizzle drops are between about 100 and 500 microns in diameter and that at that size, a few human hairs in diameter, they almost float in the air; umbrellas can be useless when it is drizzling.

Dirzzle is NOT a sprinkle of larger drops, dammitall, and its important to me that you know that!

Here’s the interesting part (he sez).  Before drizzle and raindrops can form in a cloud without ice being involved, the droplets inside the clouds must reach 30-40 microns in diameter, maybe a third of a human hair in diameter.

Until they reach that size in the clouds, they will bounce off each other like itty bitty marbles or ping pong balls.  After that “magical” size greater than 30 microns, they can coalesce, merge into one larger drop, which then falls faster, collects more drops, and, if the cloud is deep enough, fall out as a raindrop.

In the olden days, this was called a chain reaction process by cloud seeding nut and Nobel Laureate in chemistry, Irving Langmuir, who published a nice paper on this in 1948.  Today most folks call it the “warm rain” process, because ice is not involved.  Happens a LOT in the tropics, and places like Hawaii, but its rare here because our cloud bases are so warm as they were yesterday, and our clouds, being “continental”, that is, having high droplet concentrations (hundreds of thousands per liter of air) makes it hard for cloud droplets to grow up to be 30 microns in diameter.  BTW, raindrops as big as 1 cm in diameter, the biggest known size, came out of a cloud in Hawaii that had no ice in it.

So, for me, a cloud-maven, it was quite interesting yesterday to see that our cloud bases yesterday were “Floridian”, and likely had a good deal of “warm rain” in them, even before they towered up to 50,000 feet, -60 C, and had a ton of ice in them.  Its often the case that those raindrops are carried up to levels where they freeze and jump start the ice/hail forming process higher in the cloud via splintering (banging into drops and leaving fine ice shards in their wake) and shattering (they break up upon freezing).

End of learning module; you can wake up now…


The payoff by those low, warm cloud bases?  Exceptional looking clouds, a travelogue in the sky really, more like ones you’d see in Florida in the summertime, Bangladesh, Phillipines, Jakarta, etc.  Here they are, before and during the Big Dump on the Sutherland.

12:49 PM. After a huge storm over the Torts, an ominous line of Cumulus clouds began extruding westward toward Catalina.
1:07 PM. This is looking VERY good, but, with all the cool air, can these Cumulus bases really be hiding tall clouds? You never know until you see the streamers. Excitement level probably should have been around a 6-8 of 10 here, holding back that bit so that you’re heart is not broken by a later broken up cloud base.
1:29 PM. “Thar she blow”s, though actually, its like an upside down spouting whale; the streamers begin to emerge in the distance.











1:28 PM. Just six minutes later!
1:31 PM THREE minutes later. Excitement level 9 of 10.
1:36 PM. Full blowed tropical Cumulonimbus shaft. Thinking  about that “Rawhide” theme seeing this, after all, this is “Arizony”:                          Rollin’ rollin’, rollin’, though the streams are swollen, keep them dogies movin’, rawhide”          rain and wind and weather, hell bent for leather….’


That last shot is of the one that rolled into the north Catalina area and Sutherland Heights, dropping 1-2 inches.

Tried to beat it up to Sutherland Heights but was late, visibility

was bad, lightning close by, so stayed in car with one of our (wet) dogs, Pepper.

As a result, in no “in the storm” shots. Sorry.

Oops,  today?

Latest mod run from 11 PM AST last night by U of AZ here.  Surprisingly, this model run thinks today is quite a down day, not much shower action here.  Must be due to the cloud cover keeping the temperatures down all day (in the model) Or something else that is not immediately apparent to me, anyway?

But, temperature is NOT everything, as we saw yesterday.  When the air is this humid, and deeply humid as yesterday, it doesn’t take blazing temperatures to launch Cumulonimbus clouds.

So, it seems likely, with the usual daytime thinning of these clouds, perhaps not enough of that in the model, that tropical Cumulonimbus clouds will once again arise here and there.   I think Bob, our local scientist expert in these matters, will fill in some of my blanks on this later.  He’s probably not up yet.

Only a marked change in the flow pattern at near the top of our Cumulonimbus clouds can really do much, and its not obvious any thing much is changing up there (is it helping air to rise, or to descend and dry out?)  The latter can put a real damper on cloud development even if there is initial good humidity, and right now, it doesn’t get any wetter in AZ than it is right now, this morning!

The End!