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Elevated Convection and Castellanus: Ambiguities, Significance, and Questions

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  • 1 NOAA/NWS/NCEP/Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 2 NOAA/NWS/NCEP/Storm Prediction Center, and Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

The term elevated convection is used to describe convection where the constituent air parcels originate from a layer above the planetary boundary layer. Because elevated convection can produce severe hail, damaging surface wind, and excessive rainfall in places well removed from strong surface-based instability, situations with elevated storms can be challenging for forecasters. Furthermore, determining the source of air parcels in a given convective cloud using a proximity sounding to ascertain whether the cloud is elevated or surface based would appear to be trivial. In practice, however, this is often not the case. Compounding the challenges in understanding elevated convection is that some meteorologists refer to a cloud formation known as castellanus synonymously as a form of elevated convection. Two different definitions of castellanus exist in the literature—one is morphologically based (cloud formations that develop turreted or cumuliform shapes on their upper surfaces) and the other is physically based (inferring the turrets result from the release of conditional instability). The terms elevated convection and castellanus are not synonymous, because castellanus can arise from surface-based convection and elevated convection exists that does not feature castellanus cloud formations. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to clarify the definitions of elevated convection and castellanus, fostering a better understanding of the relevant physical processes. Specifically, the present paper advocates the physically based definition of castellanus and recommends eliminating the synonymity between the terms castellanus and elevated convection.

* Current affiliation: Division of Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysics, Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, and Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Corresponding author address: Stephen F. Corfidi, Storm Prediction Center, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2300, Norman, OK 73072. Email: stephen.corfidi@noaa.gov

Abstract

The term elevated convection is used to describe convection where the constituent air parcels originate from a layer above the planetary boundary layer. Because elevated convection can produce severe hail, damaging surface wind, and excessive rainfall in places well removed from strong surface-based instability, situations with elevated storms can be challenging for forecasters. Furthermore, determining the source of air parcels in a given convective cloud using a proximity sounding to ascertain whether the cloud is elevated or surface based would appear to be trivial. In practice, however, this is often not the case. Compounding the challenges in understanding elevated convection is that some meteorologists refer to a cloud formation known as castellanus synonymously as a form of elevated convection. Two different definitions of castellanus exist in the literature—one is morphologically based (cloud formations that develop turreted or cumuliform shapes on their upper surfaces) and the other is physically based (inferring the turrets result from the release of conditional instability). The terms elevated convection and castellanus are not synonymous, because castellanus can arise from surface-based convection and elevated convection exists that does not feature castellanus cloud formations. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to clarify the definitions of elevated convection and castellanus, fostering a better understanding of the relevant physical processes. Specifically, the present paper advocates the physically based definition of castellanus and recommends eliminating the synonymity between the terms castellanus and elevated convection.

* Current affiliation: Division of Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysics, Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, and Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Corresponding author address: Stephen F. Corfidi, Storm Prediction Center, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., Ste. 2300, Norman, OK 73072. Email: stephen.corfidi@noaa.gov

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