The Genesis of Severe, Long-Lived Bow Echoes

Morris L. Weisman National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

A series of idealized simulations using a nonhydrostatic cloud model is used to investigate the genesis of bow echoes (a bow-shaped system of convective cells that is especially noted for producing long swaths of damaging surface winds). It is hypothesized that severe, long-lived bow echoes represent a dynamically unique form of mesoconvective organization being produced for a restricted range of environmental conditions, including a convective available potential energy (CAPE) of at least 2000 m2 s2 and vertical wind shears of at least 20 m s−1 over the lowest 2.5–5 km AGL. The key structural features include a 40–100-km-long bow-shaped segment of convective cells, with a strong rear-inflow jet extending to the leading edge of the bow at 2–3 km AGL, and cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies (referred to as “bookend” vortices) on the northern and southern flanks of the bowed segment, respectively. This structure characteristically develops three to four hours into the lifetime of a convective system and may remain coherent for several hours.

The evolution of this coherent structure occurs systematically as the convectively produced cold pool strengthens over time, eventually producing a circulation that overwhelms the ambient shear. This forces the convective cells to advect rearward above the cold air and weaken. The horizontal buoyancy gradients along the back edge of these rearward-advecting cells subsequently generate an elevated rear-inflow jet that extends to near the leading edge of the cold pool. The circulation of this jet helps negate the circulation of the cold pool, reestablishing deep, forced lifting at the leading edge of the system. This elevated rear-inflow jet is also enhanced through the development of bookend vortices. Such vortices are produced at the ends of a convective line segment as vortex lines inherent in the ambient vertically sheared environment are first tilted upward by the convective updrafts and then tilted downward and stretched by the convective downdrafts. The development of these features requires both large amounts of CAPE and strong vertical wind shear in the environment of these systems, as is consistent with the observed environments of many severe, long-lived bow echoes.

Abstract

A series of idealized simulations using a nonhydrostatic cloud model is used to investigate the genesis of bow echoes (a bow-shaped system of convective cells that is especially noted for producing long swaths of damaging surface winds). It is hypothesized that severe, long-lived bow echoes represent a dynamically unique form of mesoconvective organization being produced for a restricted range of environmental conditions, including a convective available potential energy (CAPE) of at least 2000 m2 s2 and vertical wind shears of at least 20 m s−1 over the lowest 2.5–5 km AGL. The key structural features include a 40–100-km-long bow-shaped segment of convective cells, with a strong rear-inflow jet extending to the leading edge of the bow at 2–3 km AGL, and cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies (referred to as “bookend” vortices) on the northern and southern flanks of the bowed segment, respectively. This structure characteristically develops three to four hours into the lifetime of a convective system and may remain coherent for several hours.

The evolution of this coherent structure occurs systematically as the convectively produced cold pool strengthens over time, eventually producing a circulation that overwhelms the ambient shear. This forces the convective cells to advect rearward above the cold air and weaken. The horizontal buoyancy gradients along the back edge of these rearward-advecting cells subsequently generate an elevated rear-inflow jet that extends to near the leading edge of the cold pool. The circulation of this jet helps negate the circulation of the cold pool, reestablishing deep, forced lifting at the leading edge of the system. This elevated rear-inflow jet is also enhanced through the development of bookend vortices. Such vortices are produced at the ends of a convective line segment as vortex lines inherent in the ambient vertically sheared environment are first tilted upward by the convective updrafts and then tilted downward and stretched by the convective downdrafts. The development of these features requires both large amounts of CAPE and strong vertical wind shear in the environment of these systems, as is consistent with the observed environments of many severe, long-lived bow echoes.

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