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The 19 April 1996 Illinois Tornado Outbreak. Part I: Cell Evolution and Supercell Isolation

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  • 1 WindLogics, Inc., Grand Rapids, Minnesota
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
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Abstract

In this study of the 19 April 1996 Illinois tornado outbreak, 109 cells were tracked using radar data to understand the transition of the cell configuration from a considerable number of initial cells to a small subset of supercells after several hours of evolution. Of these 109 cells, 85 developed along three synoptic boundaries (dryline, warm front, and dryline–warm front occlusion) between 1940 and 2230 UTC. A large majority of these 85 cells formed in a 1-h period between 2040 and 2140 UTC. With a considerable number of cells initiating within a short time period, the early stages of cell organization were marked by cell merger interactions and cell attrition that led to a pattern of isolated tornadic supercells. Cell-type initiation analysis revealed that storms that would become supercells were initiated, on average, 17 min before nonsupercell storms. Cyclonic supercells, with mean storm life spans of 214 min, had much longer lives than nonsupercell storms. Anticyclonic supercells resulting from storm splits were the second longest lived at 166 min. In comparison, the largest nonsupercell category, those cells that dissipated in relative isolation, only had 35-min life spans. Supercell isolation resulted from storm mergers due to differential cell propagation and the frequent attrition of cells that formed along a common boundary. The varying rotational properties of individual cells enhanced the probability for numerous mergers while fostering a scenario where, after a few hours, the supercells became increasingly isolated. Suggestions are presented to raise the awareness level of forecasters to key aspects of cell evolution and interaction in nowcasting severe convection. In Part II of this study, storm interactions are examined in the context of merger morphology, merged cell intensity changes, and the association between storm mergers and tornadogenesis.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bruce D. Lee, WindLogics, Inc., 201 NW 4th St., Grand Rapids, MN 55744. Email: blee@windlogics.com

Abstract

In this study of the 19 April 1996 Illinois tornado outbreak, 109 cells were tracked using radar data to understand the transition of the cell configuration from a considerable number of initial cells to a small subset of supercells after several hours of evolution. Of these 109 cells, 85 developed along three synoptic boundaries (dryline, warm front, and dryline–warm front occlusion) between 1940 and 2230 UTC. A large majority of these 85 cells formed in a 1-h period between 2040 and 2140 UTC. With a considerable number of cells initiating within a short time period, the early stages of cell organization were marked by cell merger interactions and cell attrition that led to a pattern of isolated tornadic supercells. Cell-type initiation analysis revealed that storms that would become supercells were initiated, on average, 17 min before nonsupercell storms. Cyclonic supercells, with mean storm life spans of 214 min, had much longer lives than nonsupercell storms. Anticyclonic supercells resulting from storm splits were the second longest lived at 166 min. In comparison, the largest nonsupercell category, those cells that dissipated in relative isolation, only had 35-min life spans. Supercell isolation resulted from storm mergers due to differential cell propagation and the frequent attrition of cells that formed along a common boundary. The varying rotational properties of individual cells enhanced the probability for numerous mergers while fostering a scenario where, after a few hours, the supercells became increasingly isolated. Suggestions are presented to raise the awareness level of forecasters to key aspects of cell evolution and interaction in nowcasting severe convection. In Part II of this study, storm interactions are examined in the context of merger morphology, merged cell intensity changes, and the association between storm mergers and tornadogenesis.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bruce D. Lee, WindLogics, Inc., 201 NW 4th St., Grand Rapids, MN 55744. Email: blee@windlogics.com

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