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The Early Evening Transition in Southeastern U.S. Tornado Environments

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  • 1 a Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • | 2 b Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 c Meteorology Department, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
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Abstract

The response of severe local storms to environmental evolution across the early evening transition (EET) remains a forecasting challenge, particularly within the context of the Southeast U.S. storm climatology, which includes the increased presence of low-CAPE environments and tornadic nonsupercell modes. To disentangle these complex environmental interactions, Southeast severe convective reports spanning 2003–18 are temporally binned relative to local sunset. Sounding-derived data corresponding to each report are used to characterize how the near-storm environment evolves across the EET, and whether these changes influence the mode, frequency, and tornadic likelihood of their associated storms. High-shear, high-CAPE (HSHC) environments are contrasted with high-shear, low-CAPE (HSLC) environments to highlight physical processes governing storm maintenance and tornadogenesis in the absence of large instability. Last, statistical analysis is performed to determine which aspects of the near-storm environment most effectively discriminate between tornadic (or significantly tornadic) and nontornadic storms toward constructing new sounding-derived forecast guidance parameters for multiple modal and environmental combinations. Results indicate that HSLC environments evolve differently than HSHC environments, particularly for nonsupercell (e.g., quasi-linear convective system) modes. These low-CAPE environments sustain higher values of low-level shear and storm-relative helicity (SRH) and destabilize postsunset—potentially compensating for minimal buoyancy. Furthermore, the existence of HSLC storm environments presunset increases the likelihood of nonsupercellular tornadoes postsunset. Existing forecast guidance metrics such as the significant tornado parameter (STP) remain the most skillful predictors of HSHC tornadoes. However, HSLC tornado prediction can be improved by considering variables like precipitable water, downdraft CAPE, and effective inflow base.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT

The environments in which storms occur change near and after sunset, making it difficult to anticipate how these storms will respond and whether they can produce tornadoes. Southeast U.S. tornadoes can occur even with limited instability, which only adds to this challenge. To this end, we examine the different pathways that Southeast storm environments can evolve into the evening and consider how the frequency and characteristics of their tornadoes change for each pathway. We found that the amount of instability present before sunset influences how storm environments change afterward, and, therefore, how those storms produce tornadoes. Last, we identify what variables best predict tornadoes for each pathway, and these are used to construct new Southeast tornado forecasting parameters.

© 2021 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: Matthew C. Brown, matthew_brown@tamu.edu

Abstract

The response of severe local storms to environmental evolution across the early evening transition (EET) remains a forecasting challenge, particularly within the context of the Southeast U.S. storm climatology, which includes the increased presence of low-CAPE environments and tornadic nonsupercell modes. To disentangle these complex environmental interactions, Southeast severe convective reports spanning 2003–18 are temporally binned relative to local sunset. Sounding-derived data corresponding to each report are used to characterize how the near-storm environment evolves across the EET, and whether these changes influence the mode, frequency, and tornadic likelihood of their associated storms. High-shear, high-CAPE (HSHC) environments are contrasted with high-shear, low-CAPE (HSLC) environments to highlight physical processes governing storm maintenance and tornadogenesis in the absence of large instability. Last, statistical analysis is performed to determine which aspects of the near-storm environment most effectively discriminate between tornadic (or significantly tornadic) and nontornadic storms toward constructing new sounding-derived forecast guidance parameters for multiple modal and environmental combinations. Results indicate that HSLC environments evolve differently than HSHC environments, particularly for nonsupercell (e.g., quasi-linear convective system) modes. These low-CAPE environments sustain higher values of low-level shear and storm-relative helicity (SRH) and destabilize postsunset—potentially compensating for minimal buoyancy. Furthermore, the existence of HSLC storm environments presunset increases the likelihood of nonsupercellular tornadoes postsunset. Existing forecast guidance metrics such as the significant tornado parameter (STP) remain the most skillful predictors of HSHC tornadoes. However, HSLC tornado prediction can be improved by considering variables like precipitable water, downdraft CAPE, and effective inflow base.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT

The environments in which storms occur change near and after sunset, making it difficult to anticipate how these storms will respond and whether they can produce tornadoes. Southeast U.S. tornadoes can occur even with limited instability, which only adds to this challenge. To this end, we examine the different pathways that Southeast storm environments can evolve into the evening and consider how the frequency and characteristics of their tornadoes change for each pathway. We found that the amount of instability present before sunset influences how storm environments change afterward, and, therefore, how those storms produce tornadoes. Last, we identify what variables best predict tornadoes for each pathway, and these are used to construct new Southeast tornado forecasting parameters.

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Corresponding author: Matthew C. Brown, matthew_brown@tamu.edu

Supplementary Materials

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