The Sensitivity of Supercell Cold Pools to the Lifting Condensation Level and the Predicted Particle Properties Microphysics Scheme

Shawn S. Murdzek aDepartment of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

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Yvette P. Richardson aDepartment of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

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Paul M. Markowski aDepartment of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

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Abstract

Previous work found that cold pools in ordinary convection are more sensitive to the microphysics scheme when the lifting condensation level (LCL) is higher owing to a greater evaporation potential, which magnifies microphysical uncertainties. In the current study, we explore whether the same reasoning can be applied to supercellular cold pools. To do this, four perturbed-microphysics ensembles are run, with each using an environment with a different LCL. Similar to ordinary convection, the sensitivity of supercellular cold pools to the microphysics increases with higher LCLs, though the physical reasoning for this increase in sensitivity differs from a previous study. Using buoyancy budgets along parcel trajectories that terminate in the cold pool, we find that negative buoyancy generated by microphysical cooling is partially countered by a decrease in environmental potential temperatures as the parcel descends. This partial erosion of negative buoyancy as parcels descend is most pronounced in the low-LCL storms, which have steeper vertical profiles of environmental potential temperature in the lower atmosphere. When this erosion is accounted for, the strength of the strongest cold pools in the low-LCL ensemble is reduced, resulting in a narrower distribution of cold pool strengths. This narrower distribution is indicative of reduced sensitivity to the microphysics. These results suggest that supercell behavior and supercell hazards (e.g., tornadoes) may be more predictable in low-LCL environments.

Significance Statement

Thunderstorms typically produce “pools” of cold air beneath them owing in part to the evaporation of rain and melting of ice produced by the storm. Past work has found that in computer simulations of thunderstorms, the cold pools that form beneath thunderstorms are sensitive to how rain and ice are modeled in the simulation. In this study, we show that in the strongest thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes, this sensitivity is reduced when the humidity in the lowest few kilometers above the surface is increased. Exploring why the sensitivity is reduced when the humidity increases provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between humidity and cold pool strength, which is important for severe storm forecasting.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Murdzek’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA/Global Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author: Shawn S. Murdzek, shawn.s.murdzek@noaa.gov

Abstract

Previous work found that cold pools in ordinary convection are more sensitive to the microphysics scheme when the lifting condensation level (LCL) is higher owing to a greater evaporation potential, which magnifies microphysical uncertainties. In the current study, we explore whether the same reasoning can be applied to supercellular cold pools. To do this, four perturbed-microphysics ensembles are run, with each using an environment with a different LCL. Similar to ordinary convection, the sensitivity of supercellular cold pools to the microphysics increases with higher LCLs, though the physical reasoning for this increase in sensitivity differs from a previous study. Using buoyancy budgets along parcel trajectories that terminate in the cold pool, we find that negative buoyancy generated by microphysical cooling is partially countered by a decrease in environmental potential temperatures as the parcel descends. This partial erosion of negative buoyancy as parcels descend is most pronounced in the low-LCL storms, which have steeper vertical profiles of environmental potential temperature in the lower atmosphere. When this erosion is accounted for, the strength of the strongest cold pools in the low-LCL ensemble is reduced, resulting in a narrower distribution of cold pool strengths. This narrower distribution is indicative of reduced sensitivity to the microphysics. These results suggest that supercell behavior and supercell hazards (e.g., tornadoes) may be more predictable in low-LCL environments.

Significance Statement

Thunderstorms typically produce “pools” of cold air beneath them owing in part to the evaporation of rain and melting of ice produced by the storm. Past work has found that in computer simulations of thunderstorms, the cold pools that form beneath thunderstorms are sensitive to how rain and ice are modeled in the simulation. In this study, we show that in the strongest thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes, this sensitivity is reduced when the humidity in the lowest few kilometers above the surface is increased. Exploring why the sensitivity is reduced when the humidity increases provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between humidity and cold pool strength, which is important for severe storm forecasting.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Murdzek’s current affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA/Global Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado.

Corresponding author: Shawn S. Murdzek, shawn.s.murdzek@noaa.gov
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