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Dynamics of Simulated High-Shear, Low-CAPE Supercells

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  • 1 a Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Abstract

High-shear, low-CAPE environments prevalent in the southeastern United States account for a large fraction of tornadoes and pose challenges for operational meteorologists. Yet, existing knowledge of supercell dynamics, particularly in the context of cloud-resolving modeling, is dominated by moderate- to high-CAPE environments typical of the Great Plains. This study applies high-resolution modeling to clarify the behavior of supercells in the more poorly understood low-CAPE environments, and compares them to a benchmark simulation in a higher-CAPE environment. Simulated low-CAPE supercells’ main updrafts do not approach the theoretical equilibrium level; their largest vertical velocities result not from buoyancy, but from dynamic accelerations associated with low-level mesocyclones and vortices. Surprisingly, low-CAPE tornado-like vortex parcels also sometimes stop ascending near the vortex top instead of carrying large vorticity upward into the midlevel updraft, contributing to vortex shallowness. Each of these low-CAPE behaviors is attributed to dynamic perturbation pressure gradient accelerations that are maximized in low levels, which predominate when the buoyancy is small.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JAS-D-20-0117.1.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Wade’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

Corresponding author: Andrew Wade, arwade@ncsu.edu

Abstract

High-shear, low-CAPE environments prevalent in the southeastern United States account for a large fraction of tornadoes and pose challenges for operational meteorologists. Yet, existing knowledge of supercell dynamics, particularly in the context of cloud-resolving modeling, is dominated by moderate- to high-CAPE environments typical of the Great Plains. This study applies high-resolution modeling to clarify the behavior of supercells in the more poorly understood low-CAPE environments, and compares them to a benchmark simulation in a higher-CAPE environment. Simulated low-CAPE supercells’ main updrafts do not approach the theoretical equilibrium level; their largest vertical velocities result not from buoyancy, but from dynamic accelerations associated with low-level mesocyclones and vortices. Surprisingly, low-CAPE tornado-like vortex parcels also sometimes stop ascending near the vortex top instead of carrying large vorticity upward into the midlevel updraft, contributing to vortex shallowness. Each of these low-CAPE behaviors is attributed to dynamic perturbation pressure gradient accelerations that are maximized in low levels, which predominate when the buoyancy is small.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JAS-D-20-0117.1.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Wade’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

Corresponding author: Andrew Wade, arwade@ncsu.edu
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