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Parcel Theory in Three Dimensions and the Calculation of SCAPE

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Bracknell, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Slantwise convective available potential energy (SCAPE) is a measure of the degree to which the atmosphere is unstable to conditional symmetric instability (CSI). It has, until now, been defined by parcel theory in which the atmosphere is assumed to be nonevolving and balanced, that is, two-dimensional. When applying this two-dimensional theory to three-dimensional evolving flows, these assumptions can be interpreted as an implicit assumption that a timescale separation exists between a relatively rapid timescale for slantwise ascent and a slower timescale for the development of the system. An approximate extension of parcel theory to three dimensions is derived and it is shown that calculations of SCAPE based on the assumption of relatively rapid slantwise ascent can be qualitatively in error. For a case study example of a developing extratropical cyclone, SCAPE calculated along trajectories determined without assuming the existence of the timescale separation show large SCAPE values for parcels ascending from the warm sector and along the warm front. These parcels ascend into the cloud head within which there is some evidence consistent with the release of CSI from observational and model cross sections. This region of high SCAPE was not found for calculations along the relatively rapidly ascending trajectories determined by assuming the existence of the timescale separation.

Corresponding author address: S. L. Gray, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading, RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: S.L.Gray@rdg.ac.uk

Abstract

Slantwise convective available potential energy (SCAPE) is a measure of the degree to which the atmosphere is unstable to conditional symmetric instability (CSI). It has, until now, been defined by parcel theory in which the atmosphere is assumed to be nonevolving and balanced, that is, two-dimensional. When applying this two-dimensional theory to three-dimensional evolving flows, these assumptions can be interpreted as an implicit assumption that a timescale separation exists between a relatively rapid timescale for slantwise ascent and a slower timescale for the development of the system. An approximate extension of parcel theory to three dimensions is derived and it is shown that calculations of SCAPE based on the assumption of relatively rapid slantwise ascent can be qualitatively in error. For a case study example of a developing extratropical cyclone, SCAPE calculated along trajectories determined without assuming the existence of the timescale separation show large SCAPE values for parcels ascending from the warm sector and along the warm front. These parcels ascend into the cloud head within which there is some evidence consistent with the release of CSI from observational and model cross sections. This region of high SCAPE was not found for calculations along the relatively rapidly ascending trajectories determined by assuming the existence of the timescale separation.

Corresponding author address: S. L. Gray, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading, RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: S.L.Gray@rdg.ac.uk

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