Foehn - Cloud Structure In Satellite Images


Foehn is a special weather situation which appears on the lee side of a mountain chain in the situation where an air stream is crossing it perpendicularly. It is a weather situation characterised by very strong, dry and warm winds. There are also features in satellite imagery connected to these processes which appear as typical modifications of pre-frontal and frontal clouds. Four case studies stemming from half a year are investigated in detail in this chapter; all from the Alpine region.

The channels used for the images below show very well many of the features summarised above: the different grey shades (in the VIS0.6 and IR10.8 image) of the cloud on the windward and lee side (in this case S and N of the Alps); the generally cloud free band within the mountain chain; the similarity between IR10.8 and WV7.3 image.
27 January 2008/00.30 UTC - Meteosat 9 IR10.8 image
27 January 2008/08.45 UTC - Meteosat 9 HRVIS image
27 January 2008/00.30 UTC - Meteosat 9 WV7.3 image
27 January 2008/08.45 UTC - Meteosat 9 HRVIS RGB (HRVIS; HRVIS; IR10.8) image

Foehn at the Alps

As has just been demonstrated in the North Foehn example above, one mountain range which frequently produces Foehn events is the Alps. Intensive Foehn appears north/south of the Alps when there is a distinct southerly/northerly stream ahead of a frontal cloud band approaching from the W; under such circumstances a life cycle can be observed:
The IR image loop shown below is typical of a case where the mesoscale changes appearing within the multi-layered frontal cloud band are very distinct in the IR. The lowering of the cloud tops south of the Alps can be seen as well as the development of a cloud free band over the mountain chain combined with the development of high Lee Cloud to the north. A bit later an even darker small scale area develops over W. Austria moving eastward.
06 November 2000/06.00 UTC - Meteosat IR image
06.00 - 17.00 UTC hourly image Loop
A VIS/IR combination loop shows similar changes and allows the evaluation of the two channels in combination. Very pronounced is the yellow area S of the Alps representing the Stau Cloud and the more bluish colours N of the Alps representing high Lee Cloud. The development of the cloud free wedge within the mountains as well as the development of a small scale cloud free area can also be observed. In the end phases the eastward shift of this cloud free area and the simultaneous detachment of the Lee Cloud are the most pronounced features.
28 February 2000/07.30 UTC - Meteosat VIS + IR image
07.30 - 15.30 UTC hourly image Loop
Another area in Europe where Foehn events can be observed are the Scandinavian mountains.

Foehn in the Scandinavian mountains

The Foehn events (with wind having a distinct westerly component) of the Scandinavian mountains are characterized by:

However, these cloud configurations are regularly disturbed by other effects, such as the complex land-sea distribution. Also, due to the rather rare nature of the foehn phenomenon, its contribution to the average distribution of cloudiness in the region is not apparent.

There is a distinct seasonal variation in the cloudiness: In summer the mountain chain creates convective cloudiness which tends to mask the cases with pure Foehn clouds on the windward-leeward side of the mountains.

In winter, however, the effects of the mountains can be seen even in average cloudiness maps. During strong westerly flow a distinct minimum in cloudiness can be seen to the lee of the mountains. The image below roughly delineates the area with minimum cloudiness in a winter period with very high NAO (North-Atlantic Oscillation) index values. Very high NAO index values indicate strong westerly flow.

Strong Foehn winds are produced in both westerly and southerly flows. These incidents are characterized by a deep low pressure system located near Scotland or the North Sea, and with the surface flow being mainly from southeast. Strong Foehn processes caused by the mountain range Breheimen - Dovre - Sylene in Southern Norway can lead to local, strong down slope winds. In these cases the satellite IR imagery shows a characteristic dry slot in the frontal zone and a sharp-edged lee-side Cirrus sheet east of the dry slot. As in the Alpine Foehn, a narrow cloud-free area at the top of the mountain range can be seen.
31 March 1994/14.30 UTC - Meteosat IR image
14.30 - 20.00 UTC half-hourly image Loop
Another area where Foehn effects are frequently seen in satellite images is the Spanish N coast and the Pyrenean mountains.

Foehn at the mountain ridges in N. Spain

15 March 2008/09.30 UTC - Meteosat 9 IR10.8 image
15 March 2008/09.30 UTC - Meteosat 9 HRVIS RGB (HRVIS, HRVIS, IR10.,8) image
The images above show some of the typical Foehn features: within the southerly stream ahead of an approaching frontal cloud band high clouds (blue in the HRVIS RGB image) can be seen at the mountain ranges along the N. coast as well as along the Pyrenees while high Lee Cloud (blue in the IR+VIS image) extends from the highest mountain chains northward into France and the Bay of Biscay. A distinct Foehn window is seen in both images just north of the mountain ridge.

List of Foehn or Foehn-like winds and their local names:

Andes Puelche
Argentinia, Andes Zonda
Austria, Carinthia Jochwind, Jauk
Canary Islands, Central Massive Levanto
Central Asia, Mongolia Ebe
Dinarian Mountains Livas
Faeroe Islands Glaves
France, Alps, N - Foehn Bise (noir)
Greece, Gulf of Saloniki Vardarac
Gulf of Arden Belat
India, S of Himalaya Bhoot
Indonesia, Celebes Gending
Lee of Rocky Mountains Chinook
New Guinea, during E - Monsoon Wambra
New Zealand, Southern Island Northwester
Oman, Hajr Mountains, during SW - Monsoon Muscat
Poland, S - Foehn of the Tatra Halny Wiatr
Romania, Southern Carpatian Mts. Talmesch
Romania, Eastern Carpatian Mts. Austru
Serbia, from Kosovo - Mts. in the S Kossava
Sicily, Nebrodi Mts. Scirocco
Spain, Central Sierras Matacabras
Sri Lanka, during SW - Monsoon Kachchan
Sumatra, during SW- Monsoon Bohorok
USA, California Santa Ana

Menu Of Foehn
Meteorological Physical Background