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Observational Analysis of the 27 May 1997 Central Texas Tornadic Event. Part II: Tornadoes

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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

The 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic event has been investigated in a two-part observational study. As demonstrated in Part I, the 1D environment associated with this event was unfavorable for significant (≥F2) tornadoes. Yet, the storm complex produced at least six significant tornadoes, including one rated F5 (the Jarrell, Texas, tornado). The purpose of this article is to examine the spatiotemporal interrelationships between tornadoes, preexisting boundaries, antecedent low-level mesocyclones, convective cells, and midlevel mesocyclones. It is shown that each of the six observed tornadoes that produced greater than F0 damage formed along the storm-generated gust front, not along preexisting boundaries. Half of these tornadoes formed on the distorted gust front, the portion of the storm-generated gust front whose orientation was deformed largely by the horizontal shear across the cold front. The remaining three tornadoes developed at the gust front cusp (the persistent gust front inflection located at the northeast end of the gust front distortion). Unlike the tornadoes south of the gust front cusp, these tornadoes are found to be associated with antecedent mesocyclones located in the low levels above the boundary layer. Furthermore, these mesocyclonic tornadoes are found to be larger and more destructive than the three nonmesocyclonic tornadoes. The formation of the Jarrell tornado is found to occur as a nearly stationary convective cell became collocated with a south-southwestward-moving low-level mesocyclone near the gust front cusp—a behavior that resembles the formation of nonsupercell tornadoes. It is argued that the back-building propagation/maintenance of the storm complex enabled this juxtaposition of convective cells with vorticity along the distorted gust front and may have therefore enabled tornado formation. Each of the convective cells without midlevel mesocyclones was found to remain farther from the boundaries than the mesocyclonic cells. Since the cells nearest to the boundaries were longer lived than the remaining cells, it is argued that cells near the boundaries were mesocyclonic because the boundaries yielded cells that were more likely to support temporally coherent midlevel rotation.

* 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

The 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic event has been investigated in a two-part observational study. As demonstrated in Part I, the 1D environment associated with this event was unfavorable for significant (≥F2) tornadoes. Yet, the storm complex produced at least six significant tornadoes, including one rated F5 (the Jarrell, Texas, tornado). The purpose of this article is to examine the spatiotemporal interrelationships between tornadoes, preexisting boundaries, antecedent low-level mesocyclones, convective cells, and midlevel mesocyclones. It is shown that each of the six observed tornadoes that produced greater than F0 damage formed along the storm-generated gust front, not along preexisting boundaries. Half of these tornadoes formed on the distorted gust front, the portion of the storm-generated gust front whose orientation was deformed largely by the horizontal shear across the cold front. The remaining three tornadoes developed at the gust front cusp (the persistent gust front inflection located at the northeast end of the gust front distortion). Unlike the tornadoes south of the gust front cusp, these tornadoes are found to be associated with antecedent mesocyclones located in the low levels above the boundary layer. Furthermore, these mesocyclonic tornadoes are found to be larger and more destructive than the three nonmesocyclonic tornadoes. The formation of the Jarrell tornado is found to occur as a nearly stationary convective cell became collocated with a south-southwestward-moving low-level mesocyclone near the gust front cusp—a behavior that resembles the formation of nonsupercell tornadoes. It is argued that the back-building propagation/maintenance of the storm complex enabled this juxtaposition of convective cells with vorticity along the distorted gust front and may have therefore enabled tornado formation. Each of the convective cells without midlevel mesocyclones was found to remain farther from the boundaries than the mesocyclonic cells. Since the cells nearest to the boundaries were longer lived than the remaining cells, it is argued that cells near the boundaries were mesocyclonic because the boundaries yielded cells that were more likely to support temporally coherent midlevel rotation.

* 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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