Assessing the Comparative Effects of Storm-Relative Helicity Components within Right-Moving Supercell Environments

Nicholas A. Goldacker aDepartment of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Matthew D. Parker aDepartment of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Abstract

Supercell thunderstorms develop low-level rotation via tilting of environmental horizontal vorticity (ωh) by the updraft. This rotation induces dynamic lifting that can stretch near-surface vertical vorticity into a tornado. Low-level updraft rotation is generally thought to scale with 0–500 m storm-relative helicity (SRH): the combination of storm-relative flow, |SRF|, |ωh|, and cosϕ (where ϕ is the angle between SRF and ωh). It is unclear how much influence each component of SRH has in intensifying the low-level mesocyclone. This study surveys these three components using self-organizing maps (SOMs) to distill 15 906 proximity soundings for observed right-moving supercells. Statistical analyses reveal the component most highly correlated to SRH and to streamwise vorticity (ωs) in the observed profiles is |ωh|. Furthermore, |ωh| and |SRF| are themselves highly correlated due to their shared dependence on the hodograph length. The representative profiles produced by the SOMs were combined with a common thermodynamic profile to initialize quasi-realistic supercells in a cloud model. The simulations reveal that, across a range of real-world profiles, intense low-level mesocyclones are most closely linked to ωh and SRF, while the angle between them appears to be mostly inconsequential.

Significance Statement

About three-fourths of all tornadoes are produced by rotating thunderstorms (supercells). When the part of the storm near cloud base (approximately 1 km above the ground) rotates more strongly, the chance of a tornado dramatically increases. The goal of this study is to identify the simplest characteristic(s) of the environmental wind profile that can be used to forecast the likelihood of strong cloud-base rotation. This study concludes that the most important ingredients for storm rotation are the magnitudes of the horizontal vertical wind shear between the surface and 500 m and the storm inflow wind, irrespective of their relative directions. This finding may lead to improved operational identification of environments favoring tornado formation.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Nicholas A. Goldacker, nagoldac@ncsu.edu

Abstract

Supercell thunderstorms develop low-level rotation via tilting of environmental horizontal vorticity (ωh) by the updraft. This rotation induces dynamic lifting that can stretch near-surface vertical vorticity into a tornado. Low-level updraft rotation is generally thought to scale with 0–500 m storm-relative helicity (SRH): the combination of storm-relative flow, |SRF|, |ωh|, and cosϕ (where ϕ is the angle between SRF and ωh). It is unclear how much influence each component of SRH has in intensifying the low-level mesocyclone. This study surveys these three components using self-organizing maps (SOMs) to distill 15 906 proximity soundings for observed right-moving supercells. Statistical analyses reveal the component most highly correlated to SRH and to streamwise vorticity (ωs) in the observed profiles is |ωh|. Furthermore, |ωh| and |SRF| are themselves highly correlated due to their shared dependence on the hodograph length. The representative profiles produced by the SOMs were combined with a common thermodynamic profile to initialize quasi-realistic supercells in a cloud model. The simulations reveal that, across a range of real-world profiles, intense low-level mesocyclones are most closely linked to ωh and SRF, while the angle between them appears to be mostly inconsequential.

Significance Statement

About three-fourths of all tornadoes are produced by rotating thunderstorms (supercells). When the part of the storm near cloud base (approximately 1 km above the ground) rotates more strongly, the chance of a tornado dramatically increases. The goal of this study is to identify the simplest characteristic(s) of the environmental wind profile that can be used to forecast the likelihood of strong cloud-base rotation. This study concludes that the most important ingredients for storm rotation are the magnitudes of the horizontal vertical wind shear between the surface and 500 m and the storm inflow wind, irrespective of their relative directions. This finding may lead to improved operational identification of environments favoring tornado formation.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Nicholas A. Goldacker, nagoldac@ncsu.edu

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