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The Formation of Small-Scale Atmospheric Vortices via Baroclinic Horizontal Shearing Instability

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • 2 NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

This study presents a series of idealized simulations that attempt to replicate shear zones typical of drylines and other near-surface boundaries in the presence of horizontal virtual density gradients. The series of dry simulations are initialized to contain a north–south-oriented potential temperature gradient collocated with a constant-vorticity shear zone and employ north–south periodic boundary conditions. In all simulations, the shear zones frontogenetically collapse as wavelike perturbations develop that eventually roll up into discrete vortices. Convergence associated with the developing solenoidally forced secondary vertical circulation induces an accumulative shear zone contraction, which in turn increases the vertical vorticity of both the shear zone and the intensifying vortices, owing primarily to stretching that is partially offset by tilting of the vertical vorticity into the horizontal by the secondary circulation. The simulated vortices bear strong morphological resemblance to vortices reported in many earlier laboratory and numerical studies. To assess hypothesized baroclinic effects on the instability mechanism, the present results are compared to a previous study of barotropic horizontal shearing instability (HSI). Linear theory has been modified for the baroclinic cases by introducing a parametric model of frontal contraction, according to which the growth rate expressions incorporate model-prescribed, continuously varying shear zone widths. This modified parametric model is found to provide excellent agreement with the growth rates computed from the present simulations, suggesting that HSI can be extended to the baroclinic shear zone cases to a very good approximation over a range of near-surface boundary types.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael S. Buban, Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division, NOAA/OAR/Air Resources Laboratory, 456 S. Illinois Ave., Oak Ridge, TN 37830. E-mail: Michael.buban@noaa.gov

Abstract

This study presents a series of idealized simulations that attempt to replicate shear zones typical of drylines and other near-surface boundaries in the presence of horizontal virtual density gradients. The series of dry simulations are initialized to contain a north–south-oriented potential temperature gradient collocated with a constant-vorticity shear zone and employ north–south periodic boundary conditions. In all simulations, the shear zones frontogenetically collapse as wavelike perturbations develop that eventually roll up into discrete vortices. Convergence associated with the developing solenoidally forced secondary vertical circulation induces an accumulative shear zone contraction, which in turn increases the vertical vorticity of both the shear zone and the intensifying vortices, owing primarily to stretching that is partially offset by tilting of the vertical vorticity into the horizontal by the secondary circulation. The simulated vortices bear strong morphological resemblance to vortices reported in many earlier laboratory and numerical studies. To assess hypothesized baroclinic effects on the instability mechanism, the present results are compared to a previous study of barotropic horizontal shearing instability (HSI). Linear theory has been modified for the baroclinic cases by introducing a parametric model of frontal contraction, according to which the growth rate expressions incorporate model-prescribed, continuously varying shear zone widths. This modified parametric model is found to provide excellent agreement with the growth rates computed from the present simulations, suggesting that HSI can be extended to the baroclinic shear zone cases to a very good approximation over a range of near-surface boundary types.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Michael S. Buban, Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division, NOAA/OAR/Air Resources Laboratory, 456 S. Illinois Ave., Oak Ridge, TN 37830. E-mail: Michael.buban@noaa.gov
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