Storm-Scale Predictability and Analysis of the 13 April 2020 Central Savannah River Area Tornado Outbreak

Christopher A. Kerr aCooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
bNOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Frank Alsheimer cNOAA/NWS/Weather Forecast Office, Columbia, South Carolina

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Abstract

An early morning tornado outbreak occurred on 13 April 2020 in the Central Savannah River Area. Multiple significant tornadoes were reported, resulting in fatalities and injuries. While the operational tornado warnings had positive lead times, the convective mode (quasi-linear convective system) increased the warning decision complexity. The timing of the event [0500–0600 local time (LT)] also made NWS-to-public communication difficult. The experimental NSSL Warn-on-Forecast System (WoFS) was run retrospectively for this case. The WoFS consists of 3–6-h ensemble forecasts initialized every 30 min, and the goals of the system are to bridge the gap between severe weather watches and warnings and to increase warning lead times. Multiple WoFS forecasts were initialized leading up to the first tornado report; those initialized prior to tornado warning issuance have high ensemble probabilities of low-level rotation in the appropriate areas based on subsequent tornado reports. This case highlights another example of the usefulness of WoFS before its eventual transition to operations. Using the WoFS forecasts, kinematic and thermodynamic storm–environment relationships are analyzed using ensemble sensitivity analysis (ESA). The analyses suggest variations in the mesoscale environmental vertical wind profile are not as influential on mesovortex intensity as variations in the thermodynamic environment. Surface observations recorded prior to the tornado outbreak reveal subtle temperature and moisture gradients that may be the impetus for mesovortex intensification and tornadogenesis.

© 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: Christopher A. Kerr, christopher.kerr@noaa.gov

Abstract

An early morning tornado outbreak occurred on 13 April 2020 in the Central Savannah River Area. Multiple significant tornadoes were reported, resulting in fatalities and injuries. While the operational tornado warnings had positive lead times, the convective mode (quasi-linear convective system) increased the warning decision complexity. The timing of the event [0500–0600 local time (LT)] also made NWS-to-public communication difficult. The experimental NSSL Warn-on-Forecast System (WoFS) was run retrospectively for this case. The WoFS consists of 3–6-h ensemble forecasts initialized every 30 min, and the goals of the system are to bridge the gap between severe weather watches and warnings and to increase warning lead times. Multiple WoFS forecasts were initialized leading up to the first tornado report; those initialized prior to tornado warning issuance have high ensemble probabilities of low-level rotation in the appropriate areas based on subsequent tornado reports. This case highlights another example of the usefulness of WoFS before its eventual transition to operations. Using the WoFS forecasts, kinematic and thermodynamic storm–environment relationships are analyzed using ensemble sensitivity analysis (ESA). The analyses suggest variations in the mesoscale environmental vertical wind profile are not as influential on mesovortex intensity as variations in the thermodynamic environment. Surface observations recorded prior to the tornado outbreak reveal subtle temperature and moisture gradients that may be the impetus for mesovortex intensification and tornadogenesis.

© 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: Christopher A. Kerr, christopher.kerr@noaa.gov
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