Shallow cumuli cover and its uncertainties from ground-based lidar–radar data and sky images
Atmospheric Measurement Techniques
Abstract. Cloud cover estimates of single-layer shallow cumuli obtained from narrow field-of-view (FOV) lidar–radar and wide-FOV total sky imager (TSI) data are compared over an extended period (2000–2017 summers) at the established United States Atmospheric Radiation Measurement mid-continental Southern Great Plains site. We quantify the impacts of two factors on hourly and sub-hourly cloud cover estimates: (1) instrument-dependent cloud detection and data merging criteria and (2) FOV
... nd (2) FOV configuration. Enhanced observations at this site combine the advantages of the ceilometer, micropulse lidar (MPL) and cloud radar in merged data products. Data collected by these three instruments are used to calculate narrow-FOV cloud fraction (CF) as a temporal fraction of cloudy returns within a given period. Sky images provided by TSI are used to calculate the wide-FOV fractional sky cover (FSC) as a fraction of cloudy pixels within a given image. To assess the impact of the first factor on CF obtained from the merged data products, we consider two additional subperiods (2000–2010 and 2011–2017 summers) that mark significant instrumentation and algorithmic advances in the cloud detection and data merging. We demonstrate that CF obtained from ceilometer data alone and FSC obtained from sky images provide the most similar and consistent cloud cover estimates; hourly bias and root-mean-square difference (RMSD) are within 0.04 and 0.12, respectively. However, CF from merged MPL–ceilometer data provides the largest estimates of the multiyear mean cloud cover, about 0.12 (35 %) and 0.08 (24 %) greater than FSC for the first and second subperiods, respectively. CF from merged ceilometer–MPL–radar data has the strongest subperiod dependence with a bias of 0.08 (24 %) compared to FSC for the first subperiod and shows no bias for the second subperiod. The strong period dependence of CF obtained from the combined ceilometer–MPL–radar data is likely results from a change in what sensors are relied on to detect clouds below 3 km. After 2011, the MPL stopped being used for cloud top height detection below 3 km, leaving the radar as the only sensor used in cloud top height retrievals. To quantify the FOV impact, a narrow-FOV FSC is derived from the TSI images. We demonstrate that FOV configuration does not modify the bias but impacts the RMSD (0.1 hourly, 0.15 sub-hourly). In particular, the FOV impact is significant for sub-hourly observations, where 41 % of narrow- and wide-FOV FSC differ by more than 0.1. A new "quick-look" tool is introduced to visualize impacts of these two factors through integration of CF and FSC data with novel TSI-based images of the spatial variability in cloud cover. The influence of cloud field organization, such cloud streets parallel to the wind direction, on narrow- and wide-FOV cloud cover estimates can be visually assessed.