When cumulonimbus clouds aggregate, developing into a single entity with precipitation covering a horizontal scale of hundreds of kilometers, they are called mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). They account for much of Earth’s precipitation, generate severe weather events and flooding, produce prodigious cirriform anvil clouds, and affect the evolution of the larger-scale circulation. Understanding the inner workings of MCSs has resulted from developments in observational technology and modeling. Time–space conversion of ordinary surface and upper-air observations provided early insight into MCSs, but deeper understanding has followed field campaigns using increasingly sophisticated radars, better aircraft instrumentation, and an ever-widening range of satellite instruments, especially satellite-borne radars. High-resolution modeling and theoretical insights have shown that aggregated cumulonimbus clouds induce a mesoscale circulation consisting of air overturning on a scale larger than the scale of individual convective up- and downdrafts. These layers can be kilometers deep and decoupled from the boundary layer in elevated MCSs. Cooling in the lower troposphere and heating aloft characterize the stratiform regions of MCSs. As a result, long-lived MCSs with large stratiform regions have a top-heavy heating profile that generates potential vorticity in midlevels, thus influencing the larger-scale circulation within which the MCSs occur. Global satellite data show MCSs varying in structure, depending on the prevailing large-scale circulation and topography. These patterns are likely to change with global warming. In addition, environmental pollution affects MCS structure and dynamics subtly. Feedbacks of MCSs therefore need to be included or parameterized in climate models.
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Publisher’s Note: This chapter was revised on 10 October 2018 to update the attribution for Fig. 17-21, which was incorrect when originally published.