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Near-Ground Wind Profiles of Tornadic and Nontornadic Environments in the United States and Europe from ERA5 Reanalyses

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  • 1 Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • 2 Department of Meteorology and Climatology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
  • 3 National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

The near-ground wind profile exhibits significant control over the organization, intensity, and steadiness of low-level updrafts and mesocyclones in severe thunderstorms, and thus their probability of being associated with tornadogenesis. The present work builds upon recent improvements in supercell tornado forecasting by examining the possibility that storm-relative helicity (SRH) integrated over progressively shallower layers has increased skill in differentiating between significantly tornadic and nontornadic severe thunderstorms. For a population of severe thunderstorms in the United States and Europe, sounding-derived parameters are computed from the ERA5 reanalysis, which has significantly enhanced vertical resolution compared to prior analyses. The ERA5 is shown to represent U.S. convective environments similarly to the Storm Prediction Center’s mesoscale surface objective analysis, but its greater number of vertical levels in the lower troposphere permits calculations to be performed over shallower layers. In the ERA5, progressively shallower layers of SRH provide greater discrimination between nontornadic and significantly tornadic thunderstorms in both the United States and Europe. In the United States, the 0–100 m AGL layer has the highest forecast skill of any SRH layer tested, although gains are comparatively modest for layers shallower than 0–500 m AGL. In Europe, the benefit from using shallower layers of SRH is even greater; the lower-tropospheric SRH is by far the most skillful ingredient there, far exceeding related composite parameters like the significant tornado parameter (which has negligible skill in Europe).

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Brice Coffer, becoffer@ncsu.edu

Abstract

The near-ground wind profile exhibits significant control over the organization, intensity, and steadiness of low-level updrafts and mesocyclones in severe thunderstorms, and thus their probability of being associated with tornadogenesis. The present work builds upon recent improvements in supercell tornado forecasting by examining the possibility that storm-relative helicity (SRH) integrated over progressively shallower layers has increased skill in differentiating between significantly tornadic and nontornadic severe thunderstorms. For a population of severe thunderstorms in the United States and Europe, sounding-derived parameters are computed from the ERA5 reanalysis, which has significantly enhanced vertical resolution compared to prior analyses. The ERA5 is shown to represent U.S. convective environments similarly to the Storm Prediction Center’s mesoscale surface objective analysis, but its greater number of vertical levels in the lower troposphere permits calculations to be performed over shallower layers. In the ERA5, progressively shallower layers of SRH provide greater discrimination between nontornadic and significantly tornadic thunderstorms in both the United States and Europe. In the United States, the 0–100 m AGL layer has the highest forecast skill of any SRH layer tested, although gains are comparatively modest for layers shallower than 0–500 m AGL. In Europe, the benefit from using shallower layers of SRH is even greater; the lower-tropospheric SRH is by far the most skillful ingredient there, far exceeding related composite parameters like the significant tornado parameter (which has negligible skill in Europe).

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Brice Coffer, becoffer@ncsu.edu
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