Assessing the influence of complex terrain on severe convective environments in northeastern Alabama

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  • 1 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
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Abstract

Storms crossing complex terrain can potentially encounter rapidly changing convective environments. However, our understanding of terrain-induced variability in convective stormenvironments remains limited. HRRR data are used to create climatologies of popular convective storm forecasting parameters for different wind regimes. Self-organizing maps (SOMs) are used to generate six different low-level wind regimes, characterized by different wind directions, for which popular instability and vertical wind shear parameters are averaged. The climatologies show that both instability and vertical wind shear are highly variable in regions of complex terrain, and that the spatial distributions of perturbations relative to the terrain are dependent on the low-level wind direction. Idealized simulations are used to investigate the origins of some of the perturbations seen in the SOM climatologies. The idealized simulations replicate many of the features in the SOM climatologies, which facilitates analysis of their dynamical origins. Terrain influences are greatest when winds are approximately perpendicular to the terrain. In such cases, a standing wave can develop in the lee, leading to an increase in low-level wind speed and a reduction in vertical wind shear with the valley lee of the plateau. Additionally, CAPE tends to be decreased and LCL heights are increased in the lee of the terrain where relative humidity within the boundary layer is locally decreased.

Corresponding author: Branden Katona, branden.katona@noaa.gov

Current affiliation: National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at NOAA/OAR National Severe Storms Laboratory

Abstract

Storms crossing complex terrain can potentially encounter rapidly changing convective environments. However, our understanding of terrain-induced variability in convective stormenvironments remains limited. HRRR data are used to create climatologies of popular convective storm forecasting parameters for different wind regimes. Self-organizing maps (SOMs) are used to generate six different low-level wind regimes, characterized by different wind directions, for which popular instability and vertical wind shear parameters are averaged. The climatologies show that both instability and vertical wind shear are highly variable in regions of complex terrain, and that the spatial distributions of perturbations relative to the terrain are dependent on the low-level wind direction. Idealized simulations are used to investigate the origins of some of the perturbations seen in the SOM climatologies. The idealized simulations replicate many of the features in the SOM climatologies, which facilitates analysis of their dynamical origins. Terrain influences are greatest when winds are approximately perpendicular to the terrain. In such cases, a standing wave can develop in the lee, leading to an increase in low-level wind speed and a reduction in vertical wind shear with the valley lee of the plateau. Additionally, CAPE tends to be decreased and LCL heights are increased in the lee of the terrain where relative humidity within the boundary layer is locally decreased.

Corresponding author: Branden Katona, branden.katona@noaa.gov

Current affiliation: National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at NOAA/OAR National Severe Storms Laboratory

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