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Composite VORTEX2 Supercell Environments from Near-Storm Soundings

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  • 1 Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Abstract

Three-dimensional composite analyses using 134 soundings from the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) reveal the nature of near-storm variability in the environments of supercell thunderstorms. Based upon the full analysis, it appears that vertical wind shear increases as one approaches a supercell within the inflow sector, providing favorable conditions for supercell maintenance (and possibly tornado formation) despite small amounts of low-level cooling near the storm. The seven analyzed tornadic supercells have a composite environment that is clearly more impressive (in terms of widely used metrics) than that of the five analyzed nontornadic supercells, including more convective available potential energy (CAPE), more vertical wind shear, higher boundary layer relative humidity, and lower tropospheric horizontal vorticity that is more streamwise in the near-storm inflow. The widely used supercell composite parameter (SCP) and significant tornado parameter (STP) summarize these differences well. Comparison of composite environments from early versus late in supercells' lifetimes reveals only subtle signs of storm-induced environmental modification, but potentially important changes associated with the evening transition toward a cooler and moister boundary layer with enhanced low-level vertical shear. Finally, although this study focused primarily on the composite inflow environment, it is intriguing that the outflows sampled by VORTEX2 soundings were surprisingly shallow (generally ≤500 m deep) and retained considerable CAPE (generally ≥1000 J kg−1). The numerous VORTEX2 near-storm soundings provide an unprecedented observational view of supercell–environment interactions, and the analyses are ripe for use in a variety of future studies.

Corresponding author address: Matthew D. Parker, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8208, Raleigh, NC 27615-8208. E-mail: mdparker@ncsu.edu

Abstract

Three-dimensional composite analyses using 134 soundings from the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) reveal the nature of near-storm variability in the environments of supercell thunderstorms. Based upon the full analysis, it appears that vertical wind shear increases as one approaches a supercell within the inflow sector, providing favorable conditions for supercell maintenance (and possibly tornado formation) despite small amounts of low-level cooling near the storm. The seven analyzed tornadic supercells have a composite environment that is clearly more impressive (in terms of widely used metrics) than that of the five analyzed nontornadic supercells, including more convective available potential energy (CAPE), more vertical wind shear, higher boundary layer relative humidity, and lower tropospheric horizontal vorticity that is more streamwise in the near-storm inflow. The widely used supercell composite parameter (SCP) and significant tornado parameter (STP) summarize these differences well. Comparison of composite environments from early versus late in supercells' lifetimes reveals only subtle signs of storm-induced environmental modification, but potentially important changes associated with the evening transition toward a cooler and moister boundary layer with enhanced low-level vertical shear. Finally, although this study focused primarily on the composite inflow environment, it is intriguing that the outflows sampled by VORTEX2 soundings were surprisingly shallow (generally ≤500 m deep) and retained considerable CAPE (generally ≥1000 J kg−1). The numerous VORTEX2 near-storm soundings provide an unprecedented observational view of supercell–environment interactions, and the analyses are ripe for use in a variety of future studies.

Corresponding author address: Matthew D. Parker, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8208, Raleigh, NC 27615-8208. E-mail: mdparker@ncsu.edu
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