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A Climatological Analysis of Ambient Deep-Tropospheric Vertical Wind Shear Impacts upon Tornadoes in Tropical Cyclones

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

The cyclone-relative location and variability in the number of tornadoes among tropical cyclones (TCs) are not completely understood. A key understudied factor that may improve our understanding is ambient (i.e., synoptic-scale) deep-tropospheric (i.e., 850–200-hPa) vertical wind shear (VWS), which impacts both the symmetry and strength of deep convection in TCs. This study conducts a climatological analysis of VWS impacts upon tornadoes in TCs from 1995 to 2018, using observed TC and tornado data together with radiosondes. TC tornadoes were classified by objectively defined VWS categories, derived from reanalyses, to quantify the sensitivity of tornado frequency, location, and their environments to VWS. The analysis shows that stronger VWS is associated with enhanced rates of tornado production—especially more damaging ones. Tornadoes also become localized to the downshear half of the TC as VWS strengthens, with tornado location in strongly sheared TCs transitioning from the downshear-left quadrant in the TC inner core to the downshear-right quadrant in the TC outer region. Analysis of radiosondes shows that the downshear-right quadrant in strongly sheared TCs is most frequently associated with sufficiently strong near-surface speed shear and veering aloft, and lower-tropospheric thermodynamic instability for tornadoes. These supportive kinematic environments may be due to the constructive superposition of the ambient and TC winds, and the VWS-induced downshear enhancement of the TC circulation among other factors. Together, this work provides a basis for improving forecasts of TC tornado frequency and location.

Corresponding author: Benjamin A. Schenkel, benschenkel@gmail.com

Abstract

The cyclone-relative location and variability in the number of tornadoes among tropical cyclones (TCs) are not completely understood. A key understudied factor that may improve our understanding is ambient (i.e., synoptic-scale) deep-tropospheric (i.e., 850–200-hPa) vertical wind shear (VWS), which impacts both the symmetry and strength of deep convection in TCs. This study conducts a climatological analysis of VWS impacts upon tornadoes in TCs from 1995 to 2018, using observed TC and tornado data together with radiosondes. TC tornadoes were classified by objectively defined VWS categories, derived from reanalyses, to quantify the sensitivity of tornado frequency, location, and their environments to VWS. The analysis shows that stronger VWS is associated with enhanced rates of tornado production—especially more damaging ones. Tornadoes also become localized to the downshear half of the TC as VWS strengthens, with tornado location in strongly sheared TCs transitioning from the downshear-left quadrant in the TC inner core to the downshear-right quadrant in the TC outer region. Analysis of radiosondes shows that the downshear-right quadrant in strongly sheared TCs is most frequently associated with sufficiently strong near-surface speed shear and veering aloft, and lower-tropospheric thermodynamic instability for tornadoes. These supportive kinematic environments may be due to the constructive superposition of the ambient and TC winds, and the VWS-induced downshear enhancement of the TC circulation among other factors. Together, this work provides a basis for improving forecasts of TC tornado frequency and location.

Corresponding author: Benjamin A. Schenkel, benschenkel@gmail.com
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