The SESAME-AVE IV (9–10 May 1979) rawinsonde data were analyzed to uncover possible triggering mechanisms for severe storms that developed over western Oklahoma and Texas. The high frequency of observations (at 3 h intervals) and high vertical resolution of reported data (at 25 mb intervals) at all stations permitted investigation of the diurnal variation of the planetary boundary layer on the synoptic scale. Thunderstorms developed first just ahead of a stationary front over the Texas panhandle on the afternoon of 9 May. This area was characterized by the absence of a strong inversion (or “lid”) that represented an interface between very warm and dry air aloft, and warm moist tropical air below. Apparently, mesoscale low-level ascending motion associated with frontal lifting and/or the inland sea breeze effect led to the removal of the lid. Another noteworthy feature in this storm event was the strong vertical wind shear at low and middle levels over the storm area. When combined with the development of a deep boundary layer with weak stratification during the daytime, the Richardson number became less than one in the boundary layer in the prestorm situation. The results of our numerical linear stability analysis indicate that the observed basic states were indeed symmetrically unstable. This may suggest that the triggering processes were argumented by symmetric instability. Although a well defined dry line was present, it does not seem to have contributed directly to initiation of storms in this case. It also was observed that, as the thermal low began to weaken in the early evening, the cold air behind a stationary front started advancing eastward and helped to extend the line of thunderstorms deep into central Texas. This may be another process whereby some storms prefer to develop in the late afternoon or early evening.
1 On leave from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Academia Sinica, Beijing, People's Republic of China.