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Data collected around the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona as part of the Cumulus Photogrammetric, In Situ and Doppler Observations (CuPIDO) experiment during the 2006 summer monsoon season are used to investigate the effect of soil moisture on the surface energy balance, boundary layer (BL) characteristics, thermally forced orographic circulations, and orographic cumulus convection. An unusual wet spell allows separation of the two-month campaign in a wet and a dry soil period. Days in the wet soil period tend to have a higher surface latent heat flux, lower soil and air temperatures, a more stable and shallower BL, and weaker solenoidal forcing resulting in weaker anabatic flow, in comparison with days in the dry soil period. The wet soil period is also characterized by higher humidity and moist static energy in the BL, implying a lower cumulus cloud base and higher convective available potential energy. Therefore, this period witnesses rather early growth of orographic cumulus convection, growing rapidly to the cumulonimbus stage, often before noon, and producing precipitation rather efficiently, with relatively little lightning. Data alone do not allow discrimination between soil moisture and advected airmass characteristics in explaining these differences. Hence, the need for a numerical sensitivity experiment, in Part II of this study. © 2013 American Meteorological Society.




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