A poor representation of cloud structure in a general circulation model (GCM) is widely recognised as a potential source of error in the radiation budget. Here, we develop a new way of representing both horizontal and vertical cloud structure in a radiation scheme. This combines the ‘Tripleclouds’ parametrization, which introduces inhomogeneity by using two cloudy regions in each layer as opposed to one, each with different water content values, with ‘exponential-random’ overlap, in which clouds in adjacent layers are not overlapped maximally, but according to a vertical decorrelation scale. This paper, Part I of two, aims to parametrize the two effects such that they can be used in a GCM. To achieve this, we first review a number of studies for a globally applicable value of fractional standard deviation of water content for use in Tripleclouds. We obtain a value of 0.75 ± 0.18 from a variety of different types of observations, with no apparent dependence on cloud type or gridbox size. Then, through a second short review, we create a parametrization of decorrelation scale for use in exponential-random overlap, which varies the scale linearly with latitude from 2.9 km at the Equator to 0.4 km at the poles. When applied to radar data, both components are found to have radiative impacts capable of offsetting biases caused by cloud misrepresentation. Part II of this paper implements Tripleclouds and exponential-random overlap into a radiation code and examines both their individual and combined impacts on the global radiation budget using re-analysis data
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