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Discrete Propagation in Numerically Simulated Nocturnal Squall Lines

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Simulations of a typical midlatitude squall line were used to investigate a mechanism for discrete propagation, defined as convective initiation ahead of an existing squall line leading to a faster propagation speed for the storm complex. Radar imagery often shows new cells appearing in advance of squall lines, suggesting a causal relationship and prompting the search for an “action-at-a-distance” mechanism to explain the phenomenon. In the simulations presented, the identified mechanism involves gravity waves of both low and high frequency generated in response to the latent heating, which subsequently propagate out ahead of the storm. The net result of the low-frequency response, combined with surface fluxes and radiative processes, was a cooler and more moist lower troposphere, establishing a shallow cloud deck extending ahead of the storm. High-frequency gravity waves, excited in response to fluctuations in convective activity in the main storm, were subsequently ducted by the storm’s own upper-tropospheric forward anvil outflow. These waves helped positively buoyant cumulus clouds to occasionally form in the deck. A fraction of these clouds persisted long enough to merge with the main line, invigorating the parent storm. Discrete propagation occurred when clouds developed into deep convection prior to merger, weakening the parent storm. The ducting conditions, as diagnosed with the Scorer parameter, are shown to be sensitive to vertical wind shear and radiation, but not to the microphysical parameterization or simulation geometry.

Corresponding author address: Robert G. Fovell, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: rfovell@ucla.edu

Abstract

Simulations of a typical midlatitude squall line were used to investigate a mechanism for discrete propagation, defined as convective initiation ahead of an existing squall line leading to a faster propagation speed for the storm complex. Radar imagery often shows new cells appearing in advance of squall lines, suggesting a causal relationship and prompting the search for an “action-at-a-distance” mechanism to explain the phenomenon. In the simulations presented, the identified mechanism involves gravity waves of both low and high frequency generated in response to the latent heating, which subsequently propagate out ahead of the storm. The net result of the low-frequency response, combined with surface fluxes and radiative processes, was a cooler and more moist lower troposphere, establishing a shallow cloud deck extending ahead of the storm. High-frequency gravity waves, excited in response to fluctuations in convective activity in the main storm, were subsequently ducted by the storm’s own upper-tropospheric forward anvil outflow. These waves helped positively buoyant cumulus clouds to occasionally form in the deck. A fraction of these clouds persisted long enough to merge with the main line, invigorating the parent storm. Discrete propagation occurred when clouds developed into deep convection prior to merger, weakening the parent storm. The ducting conditions, as diagnosed with the Scorer parameter, are shown to be sensitive to vertical wind shear and radiation, but not to the microphysical parameterization or simulation geometry.

Corresponding author address: Robert G. Fovell, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565. Email: rfovell@ucla.edu

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