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The 30 May 1998 Spencer, South Dakota, Storm. Part II: Comparison of Observed Damage and Radar-Derived Winds in the Tornadoes

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

A violent supercell tornado passed through the town of Spencer, South Dakota, on the evening of 30 May 1998 producing large gradients in damage severity. The tornado was rated at F4 intensity by damage survey teams. A Doppler On Wheels (DOW) mobile radar followed this tornado and observed the tornado at ranges between 1.7 and 8.0 km during various stages of the tornado's life. The DOW was deployed less than 4.0 km from the town of Spencer between 0134 and 0145 UTC, and during this time period, the tornado passed through Spencer, and peak Doppler velocity measurements exceeded 100 m s−1. Data gathered from the DOW during this time period contained high spatial resolution sample volumes of approximately 34 m × 34 m × 37 m along with frequent volume updates every 45–50 s.

The high-resolution Doppler velocity data gathered from low-level elevation scans, when sample volumes are between 20 and 40 m AGL, are compared to extensive ground and aerial damage surveys performed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Idealized radial profiles of tangential velocity are computed by fitting a model of an axisymmetric translating vortex to the Doppler radar observations, which compensates for velocity components perpendicular to the radar beam as well as the translational motion of the tornado vortex.

Both the original single-Doppler velocity data and the interpolated velocity fields are compared with damage survey Fujita scale (F-scale) estimates throughout the town of Spencer. This comparison on a structure-by-structure basis revealed that radar-based estimates of the F-scale intensity usually exceeded the damage-survey-based F-scale both inside and outside the town of Spencer. In the town of Spencer, the radar-based wind field revealed two distinct velocity time series inside and outside the passage of the core-flow region. The center of the core-flow region tracked about 50 m farther north than the damage survey indicated because of the asymmetry induced by the 15 m s−1 translational motion of the tornado. The radar consistently measured the strongest winds in the lowest 200 m AGL with the most extreme Doppler velocities residing within 50 m AGL. Alternate measures of tornado wind field intensity that incorporated the effects of the duration of the extreme winds and debris were explored. It is suggested that damage may not be a simple function of peak wind gust and structural integrity, but that the duration of intense winds, directional changes, accelerations, and upwind debris loading may be critical factors.

Corresponding author address: Joshua Wurman, Center for Severe Weather Research, 1945 Vassar Circle, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: jwurman@cswr.org

Abstract

A violent supercell tornado passed through the town of Spencer, South Dakota, on the evening of 30 May 1998 producing large gradients in damage severity. The tornado was rated at F4 intensity by damage survey teams. A Doppler On Wheels (DOW) mobile radar followed this tornado and observed the tornado at ranges between 1.7 and 8.0 km during various stages of the tornado's life. The DOW was deployed less than 4.0 km from the town of Spencer between 0134 and 0145 UTC, and during this time period, the tornado passed through Spencer, and peak Doppler velocity measurements exceeded 100 m s−1. Data gathered from the DOW during this time period contained high spatial resolution sample volumes of approximately 34 m × 34 m × 37 m along with frequent volume updates every 45–50 s.

The high-resolution Doppler velocity data gathered from low-level elevation scans, when sample volumes are between 20 and 40 m AGL, are compared to extensive ground and aerial damage surveys performed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Idealized radial profiles of tangential velocity are computed by fitting a model of an axisymmetric translating vortex to the Doppler radar observations, which compensates for velocity components perpendicular to the radar beam as well as the translational motion of the tornado vortex.

Both the original single-Doppler velocity data and the interpolated velocity fields are compared with damage survey Fujita scale (F-scale) estimates throughout the town of Spencer. This comparison on a structure-by-structure basis revealed that radar-based estimates of the F-scale intensity usually exceeded the damage-survey-based F-scale both inside and outside the town of Spencer. In the town of Spencer, the radar-based wind field revealed two distinct velocity time series inside and outside the passage of the core-flow region. The center of the core-flow region tracked about 50 m farther north than the damage survey indicated because of the asymmetry induced by the 15 m s−1 translational motion of the tornado. The radar consistently measured the strongest winds in the lowest 200 m AGL with the most extreme Doppler velocities residing within 50 m AGL. Alternate measures of tornado wind field intensity that incorporated the effects of the duration of the extreme winds and debris were explored. It is suggested that damage may not be a simple function of peak wind gust and structural integrity, but that the duration of intense winds, directional changes, accelerations, and upwind debris loading may be critical factors.

Corresponding author address: Joshua Wurman, Center for Severe Weather Research, 1945 Vassar Circle, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: jwurman@cswr.org

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