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The 30 May 1998 Spencer, South Dakota, Storm. Part I: The Structural Evolution and Environment of the Tornadoes

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  • 1 School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, and Center for Severe Weather Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 Center for Severe Weather Research, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

On the evening of 30 May 1998 atmospheric conditions across southeastern South Dakota led to the development of organized moist convection including several supercells. One such supercell was tracked by both a Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) from Sioux Falls, South Dakota (KFSD), and by a Doppler On Wheels (DOW) mobile radar. This supercell remained isolated for an hour and a half before being overtaken by a developing squall line. During this time period the supercell produced at least one strong and one violent tornado, the latter of which passed through Spencer, South Dakota, despite the absence of strong low-level environmental wind shear. The two tornadoes were observed both visually and with the DOW radar at ranges between 1.7 and 12.9 km. The close proximity to the tornadoes permitted the DOW radar to observe tornado-scale structures on the order of 35 to 100 m, while the nearest WSR-88D only resolved the parent mesocyclone in the supercell. The DOW observations revealed a persistent Doppler velocity couplet and associated ring reflectivity signature at the tip of the hook echo.

The DOW radar data contained tornado strength winds over 35 m s−1 within 100 m AGL approximately 180 s prior to both the first spotter report and visual confirmation of the first tornado associated with this supercell. Following the formation of the second tornado, the DOW radar observations revealed a tornado-strength Doppler velocity couplet within 150 m AGL between two separate tornado tracks determined by a National Weather Service (NWS) damage survey. Based upon the DOW Doppler velocity data it appears that the second and third damage tracks from this supercell are produced from a single tornado.

The time–height evolution of the Doppler velocity couplet spanning both tornadoes revealed a gradual increase in vertical vorticity across each tornado's core region within a few hundred meters AGL from near 0.2 to over 2.0 s−1 over a 45-min period. A corresponding reduction in vertical vorticity was observed aloft especially near 1000 m AGL where vorticity values decreased from near 1.0 to about 0.5 s−1 during this same time interval. The shear across the Doppler velocity couplet appears to undergo strengthening both at the surface and aloft during both tornadoes. An oscillatory fluctuation in the near-surface shear across the tornado core developed during the second tornado, with peak shear values as high as 206 m s−1, Doppler velocities over 106 m s−1, and peak ground-relative wind speeds reaching 118 m s−1. The period of this intensity oscillation appears to be around 120 s and was most prominent just prior to and during the passage of the tornado through Spencer. Coincident with the tornado passage through Spencer was a rapid descending of the reflectivity eye in the core of the tornado. A detailed comparison of surveyed tornado damage and radar-calculated tornado winds in Spencer is discussed in Part II.

Corresponding author address: Curtis Alexander, School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, 100 East Boyd Street, #1442, Norman, OK 73019. Email: curtisa@ou.edu

Abstract

On the evening of 30 May 1998 atmospheric conditions across southeastern South Dakota led to the development of organized moist convection including several supercells. One such supercell was tracked by both a Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) from Sioux Falls, South Dakota (KFSD), and by a Doppler On Wheels (DOW) mobile radar. This supercell remained isolated for an hour and a half before being overtaken by a developing squall line. During this time period the supercell produced at least one strong and one violent tornado, the latter of which passed through Spencer, South Dakota, despite the absence of strong low-level environmental wind shear. The two tornadoes were observed both visually and with the DOW radar at ranges between 1.7 and 12.9 km. The close proximity to the tornadoes permitted the DOW radar to observe tornado-scale structures on the order of 35 to 100 m, while the nearest WSR-88D only resolved the parent mesocyclone in the supercell. The DOW observations revealed a persistent Doppler velocity couplet and associated ring reflectivity signature at the tip of the hook echo.

The DOW radar data contained tornado strength winds over 35 m s−1 within 100 m AGL approximately 180 s prior to both the first spotter report and visual confirmation of the first tornado associated with this supercell. Following the formation of the second tornado, the DOW radar observations revealed a tornado-strength Doppler velocity couplet within 150 m AGL between two separate tornado tracks determined by a National Weather Service (NWS) damage survey. Based upon the DOW Doppler velocity data it appears that the second and third damage tracks from this supercell are produced from a single tornado.

The time–height evolution of the Doppler velocity couplet spanning both tornadoes revealed a gradual increase in vertical vorticity across each tornado's core region within a few hundred meters AGL from near 0.2 to over 2.0 s−1 over a 45-min period. A corresponding reduction in vertical vorticity was observed aloft especially near 1000 m AGL where vorticity values decreased from near 1.0 to about 0.5 s−1 during this same time interval. The shear across the Doppler velocity couplet appears to undergo strengthening both at the surface and aloft during both tornadoes. An oscillatory fluctuation in the near-surface shear across the tornado core developed during the second tornado, with peak shear values as high as 206 m s−1, Doppler velocities over 106 m s−1, and peak ground-relative wind speeds reaching 118 m s−1. The period of this intensity oscillation appears to be around 120 s and was most prominent just prior to and during the passage of the tornado through Spencer. Coincident with the tornado passage through Spencer was a rapid descending of the reflectivity eye in the core of the tornado. A detailed comparison of surveyed tornado damage and radar-calculated tornado winds in Spencer is discussed in Part II.

Corresponding author address: Curtis Alexander, School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, 100 East Boyd Street, #1442, Norman, OK 73019. Email: curtisa@ou.edu

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