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Snowbands during the Cold-Air Outbreak of 23 January 2003

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 2 Oklahoma Climatological Survey, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 4 NOAA/NESDIS Satellite Services Division, Camp Springs, Maryland
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Abstract

A cold-air outbreak east of the Rocky Mountains on 23 January 2003 produced banded clouds and snow across the central and southeastern United States. The bands occurred through two processes: 1) thermal instability in the planetary boundary layer produced horizontal convective rolls (HCRs) over widespread areas, and 2) lake-effect processes downstream of small lakes (fetch < 100 km) produced localized bands. Characteristics of the observed bands associated with the HCRs, such as horizontal scale, depth of circulation, orientation, duration, and dynamics, are explored through observations, previous literature, and theoretical models. Snow from clouds produced by HCRs over land during the cold season has not been extensively studied previously. In this event, cold-air advection over the warm ground led to an upward sensible heat flux, promoting the occurrence of the HCR circulations. As the surface temperature decreased, the height of the lifting condensation level decreased, eventually forming cloud bands within the ascending portion of the HCR circulations. Ice crystals are inferred to have fallen from a large-scale precipitation system aloft into the cloud bands in the planetary boundary layer, which was within the favored temperature regime for dendritic growth of ice crystals. The ice crystals grew and reached the surface as light snow. This seeder–feeder process suggests one way to anticipate development of such snowbands in the future, as demonstrated by other similar events on other days in Oklahoma and Illinois. As the cloud bands were advected equatorward, they ingested drier air and dissipated. Among the several lake-effect bands observed on 23 January 2003, one notable band occurred downwind of Lake Kentucky. Midlake convergence of the land breeze may have initially produced a narrow cloud band that broadened as the land breeze ended. That the snowbands due to the HCRs and lake effect were both associated with heat and/or moisture fluxes from the earth's surface highlights the potential importance of ground- and water-surface temperature measurements for accurate numerical weather prediction.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David M. Schultz, NOAA/NSSL, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069. Email: david.schultz@noaa.gov

Abstract

A cold-air outbreak east of the Rocky Mountains on 23 January 2003 produced banded clouds and snow across the central and southeastern United States. The bands occurred through two processes: 1) thermal instability in the planetary boundary layer produced horizontal convective rolls (HCRs) over widespread areas, and 2) lake-effect processes downstream of small lakes (fetch < 100 km) produced localized bands. Characteristics of the observed bands associated with the HCRs, such as horizontal scale, depth of circulation, orientation, duration, and dynamics, are explored through observations, previous literature, and theoretical models. Snow from clouds produced by HCRs over land during the cold season has not been extensively studied previously. In this event, cold-air advection over the warm ground led to an upward sensible heat flux, promoting the occurrence of the HCR circulations. As the surface temperature decreased, the height of the lifting condensation level decreased, eventually forming cloud bands within the ascending portion of the HCR circulations. Ice crystals are inferred to have fallen from a large-scale precipitation system aloft into the cloud bands in the planetary boundary layer, which was within the favored temperature regime for dendritic growth of ice crystals. The ice crystals grew and reached the surface as light snow. This seeder–feeder process suggests one way to anticipate development of such snowbands in the future, as demonstrated by other similar events on other days in Oklahoma and Illinois. As the cloud bands were advected equatorward, they ingested drier air and dissipated. Among the several lake-effect bands observed on 23 January 2003, one notable band occurred downwind of Lake Kentucky. Midlake convergence of the land breeze may have initially produced a narrow cloud band that broadened as the land breeze ended. That the snowbands due to the HCRs and lake effect were both associated with heat and/or moisture fluxes from the earth's surface highlights the potential importance of ground- and water-surface temperature measurements for accurate numerical weather prediction.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David M. Schultz, NOAA/NSSL, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069. Email: david.schultz@noaa.gov

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