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A Comparison of Tropical and Midlatitude Thunderstorm Evolution in Response to Wind Shear

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  • 1 Department of Physics, University of Munich, Munich, Germany
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Abstract

The influence of vertical wind shear on storm development within a tropical environment is studied with the aid of two numerical models and compared with that in simulations of midlatitude storms. The simulations show that larger wind shears are required in a tropical environment than in a midlatitude environment for a storm of given updraft velocity to split. This finding is supported by the experience of forecasters at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology Regional Forecasting Centre in Darwin that the operational storm forecasting tools developed for midlatitude storms overforecast supercells within the tropics.

That tropical storms require higher shears to split can be attributed either to the larger gust front speed or to the earlier gust front occurrence compared to those in the midlatitudes. A fast gust front cuts off the storm from the warm moist inflow and the updraft has little or no time to split. In the cases where the midtropospheric relative humidity is larger in the tropics or comparable with that in the midlatitudes, the total liquid water and ice content within the deeper tropical storms is larger than in the midlatitude storms, causing a stronger downdraft. In other words, the main contribution to the negative buoyancy of the downdraft is the water loading rather than the evaporative cooling. When a tropical storm is simulated in an environment with smaller midtropospheric relative humidity than in the midlatitudes, the amount of liquid water and ice within the storm is comparable to that within the midlatitude storm. Intense evaporation within the tropical storm then leads to a stronger negative buoyancy than in the midlatitude storm, causing a stronger downdraft and thus an earlier or a faster-spreading gust front.

At higher shears in the tropics, entrainment reduces the storm depth and thus water loading, resulting in a delayed gust front initiation and/or reduction of the gust front speed, which then allows storm splitting to occur.

Corresponding author address: Ulrike Wissmeier, Department of Physics, University of Munich, Theresienstrasse 37, 80333 Munich, Germany. Email: ulrike@meteo.physik.uni-muenchen.de

Abstract

The influence of vertical wind shear on storm development within a tropical environment is studied with the aid of two numerical models and compared with that in simulations of midlatitude storms. The simulations show that larger wind shears are required in a tropical environment than in a midlatitude environment for a storm of given updraft velocity to split. This finding is supported by the experience of forecasters at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology Regional Forecasting Centre in Darwin that the operational storm forecasting tools developed for midlatitude storms overforecast supercells within the tropics.

That tropical storms require higher shears to split can be attributed either to the larger gust front speed or to the earlier gust front occurrence compared to those in the midlatitudes. A fast gust front cuts off the storm from the warm moist inflow and the updraft has little or no time to split. In the cases where the midtropospheric relative humidity is larger in the tropics or comparable with that in the midlatitudes, the total liquid water and ice content within the deeper tropical storms is larger than in the midlatitude storms, causing a stronger downdraft. In other words, the main contribution to the negative buoyancy of the downdraft is the water loading rather than the evaporative cooling. When a tropical storm is simulated in an environment with smaller midtropospheric relative humidity than in the midlatitudes, the amount of liquid water and ice within the storm is comparable to that within the midlatitude storm. Intense evaporation within the tropical storm then leads to a stronger negative buoyancy than in the midlatitude storm, causing a stronger downdraft and thus an earlier or a faster-spreading gust front.

At higher shears in the tropics, entrainment reduces the storm depth and thus water loading, resulting in a delayed gust front initiation and/or reduction of the gust front speed, which then allows storm splitting to occur.

Corresponding author address: Ulrike Wissmeier, Department of Physics, University of Munich, Theresienstrasse 37, 80333 Munich, Germany. Email: ulrike@meteo.physik.uni-muenchen.de

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