Simulated QLCS Vortices in a High-Shear, Low-CAPE Environment

Levi T. Lovell aDepartment of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Matthew D. Parker aDepartment of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Abstract

Tornadoes produced by quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) in low instability environments present distinctive challenges for forecasters. This study analyzes a population of 56 vortices (all cyclonic) in a full-physics, case study simulation to examine vortex characteristics and their relationships to the pre-line environment. Peak surface vortex intensity correlates with peak vortex depth, peak surface wind speed, and vortex pathlength. The strongest vortices are the deepest and longest lived, implying that they would be most detectable. The modeled surface vortices are primarily associated with gust front cusps and bow echoes, line breaks, and supercell-like features. Strong vortices frequently have sustained, superposed surface vorticity and near-ground updrafts for several minutes. Although weak vortices lack this superposition, they often exhibit impressive midlevel vorticity and midlevel updrafts. The environments of the weak and strong vortices are similar with small, yet statistically significant, differences in several thermodynamic and kinematic fields. The profiles near strong vortices have more low-level CAPE, steeper lapse rates, and stronger deep-layer vertical wind shear. However, the small magnitudes of the differences imply that forecasters might struggle to discriminate well between nontornadic and tornadic environments in high-shear, low-CAPE events. Despite the similarities, the profiles produce distinct reflectivity, updraft, and vertical vorticity distributions in idealized cloud model simulations. The most intense updrafts and vortices in the idealized runs occur when the environmental profiles from the strong vortex cases are combined with a QLCS orientation more normal to the lower-tropospheric vertical wind shear.

© 2022 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: Levi T. Lovell, ltlovell@alumni.ncsu.edu

Abstract

Tornadoes produced by quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) in low instability environments present distinctive challenges for forecasters. This study analyzes a population of 56 vortices (all cyclonic) in a full-physics, case study simulation to examine vortex characteristics and their relationships to the pre-line environment. Peak surface vortex intensity correlates with peak vortex depth, peak surface wind speed, and vortex pathlength. The strongest vortices are the deepest and longest lived, implying that they would be most detectable. The modeled surface vortices are primarily associated with gust front cusps and bow echoes, line breaks, and supercell-like features. Strong vortices frequently have sustained, superposed surface vorticity and near-ground updrafts for several minutes. Although weak vortices lack this superposition, they often exhibit impressive midlevel vorticity and midlevel updrafts. The environments of the weak and strong vortices are similar with small, yet statistically significant, differences in several thermodynamic and kinematic fields. The profiles near strong vortices have more low-level CAPE, steeper lapse rates, and stronger deep-layer vertical wind shear. However, the small magnitudes of the differences imply that forecasters might struggle to discriminate well between nontornadic and tornadic environments in high-shear, low-CAPE events. Despite the similarities, the profiles produce distinct reflectivity, updraft, and vertical vorticity distributions in idealized cloud model simulations. The most intense updrafts and vortices in the idealized runs occur when the environmental profiles from the strong vortex cases are combined with a QLCS orientation more normal to the lower-tropospheric vertical wind shear.

© 2022 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: Levi T. Lovell, ltlovell@alumni.ncsu.edu

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