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Convection-Permitting Simulations of the Environment Supporting Widespread Turbulence within the Upper-Level Outflow of a Mesoscale Convective System

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research,*Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Widespread moderate turbulence was recorded on three specially equipped commercial airline flights over northern Kansas near the northern edge of the extensive cirrus anvil of a nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) on 17 June 2005. A noteworthy aspect of the turbulence was its location several hundred kilometers from the active deep convection (i.e., large reflectivity) regions of the MCS. Herein, the MCS life cycle and the turbulence environment in its upper-level outflow are studied using Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) analyses and cloud-permitting simulations with the Weather Research and Forecast Model (WRF). It is demonstrated that strong vertical shear beneath the MCS outflow jet is critical to providing an environment that could support dynamic (e.g., shearing type) instabilities conducive to turbulence. Comparison of a control simulation to one in which the temperature tendency due to latent heating was eliminated indicates that strong vertical shear and corresponding reductions in the local Richardson number (Ri) to ∼0.25 at the northern edge of the anvil were almost entirely a consequence of the MCS-induced westerly outflow jet. The large vertical shear is found to decrease Ri both directly, and by contributing to reductions in static stability near the northern anvil edge through differential advection of (equivalent) potential temperature gradients, which are in turn influenced by adiabatic cooling associated with the mesoscale updraft located upstream within the anvil. On the south side of the MCS, the vertical shear associated with easterly outflow was significantly offset by environmental westerly shear, which resulted in larger Ri and less widespread model turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) than at the northern anvil edge.

Corresponding author address: Stanley B. Trier, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: trier@ucar.edu

Abstract

Widespread moderate turbulence was recorded on three specially equipped commercial airline flights over northern Kansas near the northern edge of the extensive cirrus anvil of a nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) on 17 June 2005. A noteworthy aspect of the turbulence was its location several hundred kilometers from the active deep convection (i.e., large reflectivity) regions of the MCS. Herein, the MCS life cycle and the turbulence environment in its upper-level outflow are studied using Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) analyses and cloud-permitting simulations with the Weather Research and Forecast Model (WRF). It is demonstrated that strong vertical shear beneath the MCS outflow jet is critical to providing an environment that could support dynamic (e.g., shearing type) instabilities conducive to turbulence. Comparison of a control simulation to one in which the temperature tendency due to latent heating was eliminated indicates that strong vertical shear and corresponding reductions in the local Richardson number (Ri) to ∼0.25 at the northern edge of the anvil were almost entirely a consequence of the MCS-induced westerly outflow jet. The large vertical shear is found to decrease Ri both directly, and by contributing to reductions in static stability near the northern anvil edge through differential advection of (equivalent) potential temperature gradients, which are in turn influenced by adiabatic cooling associated with the mesoscale updraft located upstream within the anvil. On the south side of the MCS, the vertical shear associated with easterly outflow was significantly offset by environmental westerly shear, which resulted in larger Ri and less widespread model turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) than at the northern anvil edge.

Corresponding author address: Stanley B. Trier, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: trier@ucar.edu

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