A-Train estimates of the sensitivity of the cloud-to-rainwater ratio to cloud size, relative humidity, and aerosols Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract. Precipitation efficiency has been found to play an important role in constraining the sensitivity of the climate through its role in controlling cloud cover, yet its controls are not fully understood. Here we use CloudSat observations to identify individual contiguous shallow cumulus cloud objects and compute the ratio of cloud water path to rainwater (WRR) path as a proxy for warm-rain efficiency. Cloud objects are then conditionally sampled by cloud-top height, relative humidity, and aerosol optical depth (AOD) to analyze changes in WRR as a function of cloud size (extent). For a fixed cloud-top height, WRR increases with extent and environmental humidity following a double power-law distribution, as a function of extent. Similarly, WRR increases, holding average relative humidity at or below 850mb constant. There is little relationship between WRR and AOD when conditioned by cloud-top height, suggesting that, once rain drop formation begins, aerosols may not be as important for WRR as cloud size and depth. Consistent with prior studies, results show an increase in WRR with sea-surface temperature. However, for a given depth and SST, WRR is also dependent on cloud size and becomes larger as cloud size increases. Given that larger objects become more frequent with increasing SST, these results imply that increasing precipitation efficiencies with SST are due not only to deeper clouds with greater cloud water contents but also to the propensity for larger clouds which may have more protected updrafts.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 9.08

author list (cited authors)

  • Smalley, K. M., & Rapp, A. D.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Smalley, Kevin M||Rapp, Anita D

publication date

  • January 1, 2021 11:11 AM