Mesoscale Aspects of the Rapid Intensification of a Tornadic Convective Line across Central Florida: 22–23 February 1998

Alicia C. Wasula Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York

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Lance F. Bosart Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York

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Russell Schneider Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma

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Steven J. Weiss Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma

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Robert H. Johns Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma

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Geoffrey S. Manikin NCEP/EMC/Mesoscale Modeling Branch, Camp Springs, Maryland

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Patrick Welsh Advanced Weather Information Systems Laboratory, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida

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Abstract

The 22–23 February 1998 central Florida tornado outbreak was one of the deadliest and costliest in Florida’s history; a number of long-track tornadoes moved across the Florida peninsula after 0000 UTC 23 February 1998. In the 12–24 h prior to 0000 UTC 23 February, a vigorous upper-level synoptic system was tracking across the southeast United States, and a north–south-oriented convective band located ahead of the cold front was moving eastward across the Gulf of Mexico. Strong vertical wind shear was present in the lowest 1 km, due to a ∼25 m s−1 low-level jet at 925 hPa and south-southeasterly surface flow over the Florida peninsula. Further, CAPE values across the central Florida peninsula exceeded 2500 J kg−1. Upon making landfall on the Florida peninsula, the convective band rapidly intensified and developed into a line of tornadic supercells. This paper examines the relationship between a diabatically induced front across the central Florida peninsula and the rapid development of tornadic supercells in the convective band after 0000 UTC 23 February. Results suggest that persistent strong frontogenesis helped to maintain the front and enhanced ascent in the warm, moist unstable air to the south of the east–west-oriented front on the Florida peninsula, thus allowing the updrafts to rapidly intensify as they made landfall. Further, surface observations from three key locations along the surface front suggest that a mesolow moved eastward along the front just prior to the time when supercells developed. It is hypothesized that the eastward-moving mesolow may have caused the winds in the warm air to the south of the surface front to back to southeasterly and create a favorable low-level wind profile in which supercells could rapidly develop.

Corresponding author address: Alicia Wasula, Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222. Email: alicia@atmos.albany.edu

Abstract

The 22–23 February 1998 central Florida tornado outbreak was one of the deadliest and costliest in Florida’s history; a number of long-track tornadoes moved across the Florida peninsula after 0000 UTC 23 February 1998. In the 12–24 h prior to 0000 UTC 23 February, a vigorous upper-level synoptic system was tracking across the southeast United States, and a north–south-oriented convective band located ahead of the cold front was moving eastward across the Gulf of Mexico. Strong vertical wind shear was present in the lowest 1 km, due to a ∼25 m s−1 low-level jet at 925 hPa and south-southeasterly surface flow over the Florida peninsula. Further, CAPE values across the central Florida peninsula exceeded 2500 J kg−1. Upon making landfall on the Florida peninsula, the convective band rapidly intensified and developed into a line of tornadic supercells. This paper examines the relationship between a diabatically induced front across the central Florida peninsula and the rapid development of tornadic supercells in the convective band after 0000 UTC 23 February. Results suggest that persistent strong frontogenesis helped to maintain the front and enhanced ascent in the warm, moist unstable air to the south of the east–west-oriented front on the Florida peninsula, thus allowing the updrafts to rapidly intensify as they made landfall. Further, surface observations from three key locations along the surface front suggest that a mesolow moved eastward along the front just prior to the time when supercells developed. It is hypothesized that the eastward-moving mesolow may have caused the winds in the warm air to the south of the surface front to back to southeasterly and create a favorable low-level wind profile in which supercells could rapidly develop.

Corresponding author address: Alicia Wasula, Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222. Email: alicia@atmos.albany.edu

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