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Some Influences of Background Flow Conditions on the Generation of Turbulence due to Gravity Wave Breaking above Deep Convection

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  • 1 The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Deep moist convection generates turbulence in the clear air above and around developing clouds, penetrating convective updrafts and mature thunderstorms. This turbulence can be due to shearing instabilities caused by strong flow deformations near the cloud top, and also to breaking gravity waves generated by cloud–environment interactions. Turbulence above and around deep convection is an important safety issue for aviation, and improved understanding of the conditions that lead to out-of-cloud turbulence formation may result in better turbulence avoidance guidelines or forecasting capabilities. In this study, a series of high-resolution two- and three-dimensional model simulations of a severe thunderstorm are conducted to examine the sensitivity of above-cloud turbulence to a variety of background flow conditions—in particular, the above-cloud wind shear and static stability. Shortly after the initial convective overshoot, the above-cloud turbulence and mixing are caused by local instabilities in the vicinity of the cloud interfacial boundary. At later times, when the convection is more mature, gravity wave breaking farther aloft dominates the turbulence generation. This wave breaking is caused by critical-level interactions, where the height of the critical level is controlled by the above-cloud wind shear. The strength of the above-cloud wind shear has a strong influence on the occurrence and intensity of above-cloud turbulence, with intermediate shears generating more extensive regions of turbulence, and strong shear conditions producing the most intense turbulence. Also, more stable above-cloud environments are less prone to turbulence than less stable situations. Among other things, these results highlight deficiencies in current turbulence avoidance guidelines in use by the aviation industry.

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Todd Lane, School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia. Email: tplane@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

Deep moist convection generates turbulence in the clear air above and around developing clouds, penetrating convective updrafts and mature thunderstorms. This turbulence can be due to shearing instabilities caused by strong flow deformations near the cloud top, and also to breaking gravity waves generated by cloud–environment interactions. Turbulence above and around deep convection is an important safety issue for aviation, and improved understanding of the conditions that lead to out-of-cloud turbulence formation may result in better turbulence avoidance guidelines or forecasting capabilities. In this study, a series of high-resolution two- and three-dimensional model simulations of a severe thunderstorm are conducted to examine the sensitivity of above-cloud turbulence to a variety of background flow conditions—in particular, the above-cloud wind shear and static stability. Shortly after the initial convective overshoot, the above-cloud turbulence and mixing are caused by local instabilities in the vicinity of the cloud interfacial boundary. At later times, when the convection is more mature, gravity wave breaking farther aloft dominates the turbulence generation. This wave breaking is caused by critical-level interactions, where the height of the critical level is controlled by the above-cloud wind shear. The strength of the above-cloud wind shear has a strong influence on the occurrence and intensity of above-cloud turbulence, with intermediate shears generating more extensive regions of turbulence, and strong shear conditions producing the most intense turbulence. Also, more stable above-cloud environments are less prone to turbulence than less stable situations. Among other things, these results highlight deficiencies in current turbulence avoidance guidelines in use by the aviation industry.

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Todd Lane, School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia. Email: tplane@unimelb.edu.au

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