Simulated WSR-88D Velocity and Reflectivity Signatures of Numerically Modeled Tornadoes

Vincent T. Wood NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Rodger A. Brown NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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David C. Dowell NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, and Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

Low-altitude radar reflectivity measurements of tornadoes sometimes reveal a donut-shaped signature (low-reflectivity eye surrounded by a high-reflectivity annulus) and at other times reveal a high-reflectivity knob associated with the tornado. The differences appear to be due to such factors as (i) the radar’s sampling resolution, (ii) the presence or absence of lofted debris and a low-reflectivity eye, (iii) whether measurements were made within the lowest few hundred meters where centrifuged hydrometeors and smaller debris particles were recycled back into the tornadic circulation, and (iv) the presence or absence of multiple vortices in the parent tornado.

To explore the influences of some of these various factors on radar reflectivity and Doppler velocity signatures, a high-resolution tornado numerical model was used that incorporated the centrifuging of hydrometeors. A model reflectivity field was computed from the resulting concentration of hydrometeors. Then, the model reflectivity and velocity fields were scanned by a simulated Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) using both the legacy resolution and the new super-resolution sampling. Super-resolution reflectivity and Doppler velocity data are displayed at 0.5° instead of 1.0° azimuthal sampling intervals and reflectivity data are displayed at 0.25-km instead of 1.0-km range intervals.

Since a mean Doppler velocity value is the reflectivity-weighted mean of the radial motion of all the radar scatterers within a radar beam, a nonuniform distribution of scatterers produces a different mean Doppler velocity value than does a uniform distribution of scatterers. Nonuniform reflectivities within the effective resolution volume of the radar beam can bias the indicated size and strength of the tornado’s core region within the radius of the peak tangential velocities. As shown in the simulation results, the Doppler-indicated radius of the peak wind underestimates the true radius and true peak tangential velocity when the effective beamwidth is less than the tornado’s core diameter and there is a weak-reflectivity eye at the center of the tornado. As the beam becomes significantly wider than the tornado’s core diameter with increasing range, the peaks of the Doppler velocity profiles continue to decrease in magnitude but overestimate the tornado’s true radius. With increasing range from the radar, the prominence of the weak-reflectivity eye at the center of the tornado is progressively lessened until it finally disappears. As to be expected, the Doppler velocity signatures and reflectivity eye signatures were more prominent and stronger with super-resolution sampling than those with legacy-resolution sampling.

* Current affiliation: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Vincent Wood, NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Norman, OK 73072. Email: vincent.wood@noaa.gov

Abstract

Low-altitude radar reflectivity measurements of tornadoes sometimes reveal a donut-shaped signature (low-reflectivity eye surrounded by a high-reflectivity annulus) and at other times reveal a high-reflectivity knob associated with the tornado. The differences appear to be due to such factors as (i) the radar’s sampling resolution, (ii) the presence or absence of lofted debris and a low-reflectivity eye, (iii) whether measurements were made within the lowest few hundred meters where centrifuged hydrometeors and smaller debris particles were recycled back into the tornadic circulation, and (iv) the presence or absence of multiple vortices in the parent tornado.

To explore the influences of some of these various factors on radar reflectivity and Doppler velocity signatures, a high-resolution tornado numerical model was used that incorporated the centrifuging of hydrometeors. A model reflectivity field was computed from the resulting concentration of hydrometeors. Then, the model reflectivity and velocity fields were scanned by a simulated Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) using both the legacy resolution and the new super-resolution sampling. Super-resolution reflectivity and Doppler velocity data are displayed at 0.5° instead of 1.0° azimuthal sampling intervals and reflectivity data are displayed at 0.25-km instead of 1.0-km range intervals.

Since a mean Doppler velocity value is the reflectivity-weighted mean of the radial motion of all the radar scatterers within a radar beam, a nonuniform distribution of scatterers produces a different mean Doppler velocity value than does a uniform distribution of scatterers. Nonuniform reflectivities within the effective resolution volume of the radar beam can bias the indicated size and strength of the tornado’s core region within the radius of the peak tangential velocities. As shown in the simulation results, the Doppler-indicated radius of the peak wind underestimates the true radius and true peak tangential velocity when the effective beamwidth is less than the tornado’s core diameter and there is a weak-reflectivity eye at the center of the tornado. As the beam becomes significantly wider than the tornado’s core diameter with increasing range, the peaks of the Doppler velocity profiles continue to decrease in magnitude but overestimate the tornado’s true radius. With increasing range from the radar, the prominence of the weak-reflectivity eye at the center of the tornado is progressively lessened until it finally disappears. As to be expected, the Doppler velocity signatures and reflectivity eye signatures were more prominent and stronger with super-resolution sampling than those with legacy-resolution sampling.

* Current affiliation: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Vincent Wood, NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Norman, OK 73072. Email: vincent.wood@noaa.gov

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