Theoretical and Applied Climatology

, Volume 52, Issue 1–2, pp 43–54 | Cite as

The role of wintertime radiation in maintaining and destroying stable layers

  • M. H. Savoie
  • T. B. McKee


Strong stable layers are a common occurrence during western Colorado's winter. Analysis of radiosonde observations indicate wintertime boundary layer heights are near 500 m. The terrain in this region consists of mountains that rise approximately 1500–2000 m above the ground to the east, providing an effective blocking barrier. An experiment is described to observe upwelling and downwelling, longwave and shortwave radiative fluxes at two sites in western Colorado during January and February 1992, for combinations of clear, cloudy, snow covered, and bare ground periods. Analysis of the observations and the surface energy budget for typical Bowen ratios provides a better understanding of the role of radiation in maintaining and destroying stable layers.

During the day, the surface received a net gain of energy from radiation, while at night there was a net loss. Over snow, the 24-hour net radiative flux was small and either positive or negative. Over bare soil, the 24-hour net radiative flux was positive but still small. There is little difference in the net radiative flux between clear and cloudy days; the reduction of the incident solar flux by clouds is nearly compensated by the hindering of the longwave cooling. The cumulative effects of the 24-hour net radiative flux were negative over snow early in the experiment. The 24-hour values shifted to near zero as the snow albedo decreased and were positive for bare ground.

If the daytime net radiative flux is partitioned into sensible and latent heat flux using typical Bowen ratios, the daytime sensible heat available for destroying boundary layers is small for the low solar angles of the winter season. With a Bowen ratio of 0.5, the daytime sensible heat flux available is only 0.3 to 1.2 MJ m−2 over a snow surface and 1.4 to 2.3 MJ m−2 over soil. These heat fluxes will not build a deep enough boundary layer to break a typical wintertime inversion. The 24-hour sensible heat flux was negative at both sites for the entire experiment with this Bowen ratio.

The radiation observations and the use of typical Bowen ratios lead to the conclusion that the net radiation will sustain or strengthen a stable atmosphere in the winter season in western Colorado. Analysis of the radiosonde observations confirm this result as the boundary layer depths were less than 500 m early in the experiment and grew to only 700 m later in the experiment.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. H. Savoie
    • 1
  • T. B. McKee
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Atmospheric ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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