Original paper

An observational study of air and water vapour convergence over the Bernese Alps, Switzerland, during summertime and the development of isolated thunderstorms

Graham, Edward; Koffi, Ernest N'Dri; Mätzler, Christian

Meteorologische Zeitschrift Vol. 21 No. 6 (2012), p. 561 - 574

published: Dec 1, 2012

DOI: 10.1127/0941-2948/2012/0347

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The daytime summer phenomenon of the mesoscale transport of air and water vapour from the Swiss lowlands into the nearby western Alps, leading to orographic convection, is investigated using a range of independent observations. These observations are: Global Positioning System (GPS) integrated water vapour (IWV) data, the TROWARA microwave radiometer, MeteoSwiss ANETZ surface weather station data, the Payerne radiosonde, synoptic analyses for Switzerland and Europe, EUMETSAT and NOAA visible and infra-red satellite images, MeteoSwiss operational precipitation radar, photographs and webcam images including time-lapse cloud animations. The intention was to show, using GPS IWV data, that significant differences in IWV may occur between the Swiss plain and nearby Alps during small single-cell Alpine thunderstorm events, and that these may be attributable to regional airflow convergence. Two particular case studies are presented for closer examination: 20 June 2005 and 13 June 2006. On both days, fine and warm weather was followed by isolated orographic convection over the Alps in the afternoon and evening, producing thunderstorms. The thunderstorms investigated were generally small, local, discrete and short-lived phenomena. They were selected for study because of almost stationary position over orography, rendering easy observation because they remained contained within a particular mountain region before dissipating. The results show that large transfers of air and water vapour occur from the Swiss plain to the mountains on such days, with up to a 50% increase in GPS IWV values at individual Alpine stations, coincident with strong airflow convergence in the same locality.


airmass thunderstormsair and water vapour convergenceswitzerlandmountain-plain air circulation system