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Colorado Plowable Hailstorms: Synoptic Weather, Radar, and Lightning Characteristics

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  • 1 * NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory/Hurricane Research Division, Miami, Florida
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 4 NOAA/NWS/Office of the Chief Learning Officer, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 5 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 6 ** NASA Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT)/ENSCO, Inc., Huntsville, Alabama
  • | 7 NOAA/NWS, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Synoptic weather, S-band dual-polarization radar, and total lightning observations are analyzed from four thunderstorms that produced “plowable” hail accumulations of 15–60 cm in localized areas of the Colorado Front Range. Results indicate that moist, relatively slow (5–15 m s−1) southwesterly-to-westerly flow at 500 hPa and postfrontal low-level upslope flow, with 2-m dewpoint temperatures of 11°–19°C at 1200 LST, were present on each plowable hail day. This pattern resulted in column-integrated precipitable water values that were 132%–184% of the monthly means and freezing-level heights that were 100–700 m higher than average. Radar data indicate that between one and three maxima in reflectivity Z (68–75 dBZ) and 50-dBZ echo-top height (11–15 km MSL) occurred over the lifetime of each hailstorm. These maxima, which imply an enhancement in updraft strength, resulted in increased graupel and hail production and accumulating hail at the surface within 30 min of the highest echo tops. The hail core had Z ~ 70 dBZ, differential reflectivity ZDR from 0 to −4 dB, and correlation coefficient ρHV of 0.80–0.95. Time–height plots reveal that these minima in ZDR and ρHV gradually descended to the surface after originating at heights of 6–10 km MSL ~15–60 min prior to accumulating hailfall. Hail accumulations estimated from the radar data pinpoint the times and locations of plowable hail, with depths greater than 5 cm collocated with the plowable hail reports. Three of the four hail events were accompanied by lightning flash rates near the maximum observed thus far within the thunderstorm.

Corresponding author address: Evan A. Kalina, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, 325 Broadway St., Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: evan.kalina@noaa.gov

Abstract

Synoptic weather, S-band dual-polarization radar, and total lightning observations are analyzed from four thunderstorms that produced “plowable” hail accumulations of 15–60 cm in localized areas of the Colorado Front Range. Results indicate that moist, relatively slow (5–15 m s−1) southwesterly-to-westerly flow at 500 hPa and postfrontal low-level upslope flow, with 2-m dewpoint temperatures of 11°–19°C at 1200 LST, were present on each plowable hail day. This pattern resulted in column-integrated precipitable water values that were 132%–184% of the monthly means and freezing-level heights that were 100–700 m higher than average. Radar data indicate that between one and three maxima in reflectivity Z (68–75 dBZ) and 50-dBZ echo-top height (11–15 km MSL) occurred over the lifetime of each hailstorm. These maxima, which imply an enhancement in updraft strength, resulted in increased graupel and hail production and accumulating hail at the surface within 30 min of the highest echo tops. The hail core had Z ~ 70 dBZ, differential reflectivity ZDR from 0 to −4 dB, and correlation coefficient ρHV of 0.80–0.95. Time–height plots reveal that these minima in ZDR and ρHV gradually descended to the surface after originating at heights of 6–10 km MSL ~15–60 min prior to accumulating hailfall. Hail accumulations estimated from the radar data pinpoint the times and locations of plowable hail, with depths greater than 5 cm collocated with the plowable hail reports. Three of the four hail events were accompanied by lightning flash rates near the maximum observed thus far within the thunderstorm.

Corresponding author address: Evan A. Kalina, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, 325 Broadway St., Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: evan.kalina@noaa.gov
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