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The Role of Vertical Wind Shear in Modulating Maximum Supercell Updraft Velocities

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • | 3 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Observed supercell updrafts consistently produce the fastest mid- to upper-tropospheric vertical velocities among all modes of convection. Two hypotheses for this feature are investigated. In the dynamic hypothesis, upward, largely rotationally driven pressure gradient accelerations enhance supercell updrafts relative to other forms of convection. In the thermodynamic hypothesis, supercell updrafts have more low-level inflow than ordinary updrafts because of the large vertical wind shear in supercell environments. This large inflow makes supercell updrafts wider than that of ordinary convection and less susceptible to the deleterious effects of entrainment-driven updraft core dilution on buoyancy. These hypotheses are tested using a large suite of idealized supercell simulations, wherein vertical shear, CAPE, and moisture are systematically varied. Consistent with the thermodynamic hypothesis, storms with the largest storm-relative flow have larger inflow, are wider, have larger buoyancy, and have faster updrafts. Analyses of the vertical momentum forcing along trajectories shows that maximum vertical velocities are often enhanced by dynamic pressure accelerations, but this enhancement is accompanied by larger downward buoyant pressure accelerations than in ordinary convection. Integrated buoyancy along parcel paths is therefore a strong constraint on maximum updraft speeds. Thus, through a combination of processes consistent with the dynamic and thermodynamic hypotheses, supercell updrafts are able to realize a larger percentage of CAPE than ordinary updrafts.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: J. Peters, jmpeters@nps.edu

Abstract

Observed supercell updrafts consistently produce the fastest mid- to upper-tropospheric vertical velocities among all modes of convection. Two hypotheses for this feature are investigated. In the dynamic hypothesis, upward, largely rotationally driven pressure gradient accelerations enhance supercell updrafts relative to other forms of convection. In the thermodynamic hypothesis, supercell updrafts have more low-level inflow than ordinary updrafts because of the large vertical wind shear in supercell environments. This large inflow makes supercell updrafts wider than that of ordinary convection and less susceptible to the deleterious effects of entrainment-driven updraft core dilution on buoyancy. These hypotheses are tested using a large suite of idealized supercell simulations, wherein vertical shear, CAPE, and moisture are systematically varied. Consistent with the thermodynamic hypothesis, storms with the largest storm-relative flow have larger inflow, are wider, have larger buoyancy, and have faster updrafts. Analyses of the vertical momentum forcing along trajectories shows that maximum vertical velocities are often enhanced by dynamic pressure accelerations, but this enhancement is accompanied by larger downward buoyant pressure accelerations than in ordinary convection. Integrated buoyancy along parcel paths is therefore a strong constraint on maximum updraft speeds. Thus, through a combination of processes consistent with the dynamic and thermodynamic hypotheses, supercell updrafts are able to realize a larger percentage of CAPE than ordinary updrafts.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: J. Peters, jmpeters@nps.edu
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