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Observational Analysis of the 27 May 1997 Central Texas Tornadic Event. Part I: Prestorm Environment and Storm Maintenance/Propagation

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • | 2 National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
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Abstract

A detailed analysis of the 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic storm complex is undertaken in an attempt to document the prestorm environment and identify the roles played by preexisting boundaries on storm maintenance/propagation and rotation. Analysis is carried out using a broad suite of synoptic and subsynoptic data but focuses on the level-II and -III Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) data from three Texas radars. The 27 May 1997 event was characterized by a back-building (propagation against the mean flow) storm complex that produced at least 12 tornadoes including the F5 Jarrell, Texas, tornado. Furthermore, five of the eight longest-lived cells during the analysis period are shown to contain midlevel mesocyclones. However, one-dimensional metrics calculated using representative vertical profiles of state variables reveal that, despite the extreme values of CAPE in place (>6500 J kg−1), the (1D) environment associated with this event is best classified as only marginally favorable for supercells and unfavorable for significant, supercellular tornadoes. Furthermore, the observed wind shear values are shown to be more in line with the vertical shear values typically associated with nonsevere back-building storms. Examples of propagation controlled by quasi-continuous maintenance of a single cell as well as successive discrete cell redevelopment are found. In all situations, two preexisting boundaries in place during this event (a cold front and a dryline) are found to have been necessary for the maintenance/propagation of the storm complex. Specifically, it is argued that the “zippering” of the cold front and dryline (the collision of the dryline and cold front that allowed the cold front to overtake the dryline and penetrate into the most unstable air to the east) was essential for the back-building of the storm complex in this event since it resulted in new cell development at points farther south. While midlevel mesocyclones were present in five of the eight longest-lived and well-sampled cells, analysis of the relationship between observed cell motion, expected cell motion, expected supercellular deviation, and boundary motion for the longest-lived and well-sampled cells reveals little evidence that deviate motions generated through supercellular dynamics governed cell motions. Instead, it is shown that boundary motions largely controlled the propagation of individual cells.

* Current affiliation: Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska

Corresponding author address: Dr. Adam L. Houston, Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 214 Bessey Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588. Email: ahouston@unl.edu

Abstract

A detailed analysis of the 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic storm complex is undertaken in an attempt to document the prestorm environment and identify the roles played by preexisting boundaries on storm maintenance/propagation and rotation. Analysis is carried out using a broad suite of synoptic and subsynoptic data but focuses on the level-II and -III Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) data from three Texas radars. The 27 May 1997 event was characterized by a back-building (propagation against the mean flow) storm complex that produced at least 12 tornadoes including the F5 Jarrell, Texas, tornado. Furthermore, five of the eight longest-lived cells during the analysis period are shown to contain midlevel mesocyclones. However, one-dimensional metrics calculated using representative vertical profiles of state variables reveal that, despite the extreme values of CAPE in place (>6500 J kg−1), the (1D) environment associated with this event is best classified as only marginally favorable for supercells and unfavorable for significant, supercellular tornadoes. Furthermore, the observed wind shear values are shown to be more in line with the vertical shear values typically associated with nonsevere back-building storms. Examples of propagation controlled by quasi-continuous maintenance of a single cell as well as successive discrete cell redevelopment are found. In all situations, two preexisting boundaries in place during this event (a cold front and a dryline) are found to have been necessary for the maintenance/propagation of the storm complex. Specifically, it is argued that the “zippering” of the cold front and dryline (the collision of the dryline and cold front that allowed the cold front to overtake the dryline and penetrate into the most unstable air to the east) was essential for the back-building of the storm complex in this event since it resulted in new cell development at points farther south. While midlevel mesocyclones were present in five of the eight longest-lived and well-sampled cells, analysis of the relationship between observed cell motion, expected cell motion, expected supercellular deviation, and boundary motion for the longest-lived and well-sampled cells reveals little evidence that deviate motions generated through supercellular dynamics governed cell motions. Instead, it is shown that boundary motions largely controlled the propagation of individual cells.

* Current affiliation: Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska

Corresponding author address: Dr. Adam L. Houston, Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 214 Bessey Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588. Email: ahouston@unl.edu

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