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Tammy M. Weckwerth and Ulrike Romatschke

Abstract

The overarching goal of the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign was to improve understanding of the processes contributing to the nocturnal precipitation maximum in the U.S. Great Plains. This study presents the precipitation pattern surrounding PECAN and addresses the origin, timing, duration, and potential causes contributing to that pattern. It is shown that the precipitation occurs most frequently at night, as expected. The maximum in the precipitation pattern occurred in the northeastern portion of the PECAN radar domain. The source of the rainfall was attributed to mountain-initiated precipitation, plains-initiated precipitation, precipitation advecting over the border of the radar domain, and episodes in which different initiation categories merged together. Through the combination of mountain-initiated, border, and merged episodes, 70% of the Great Plains precipitation was caused by episodes that formed outside of the PECAN domain and propagated into the region. The remaining 30% of the precipitation was attributed to plains-initiated storms. The mountain-initiated storms formed primarily in the afternoon and typically dissipated near the mountains. For those that survived, they propagated eastward, grew upscale, and contributed 27% of the precipitation in the plains. The plains-initiated precipitation fell mostly during the afternoon but also contributed to overnight rainfall and those locally triggered systems tended to be relatively smaller and shorter lived. For the top 10% rain-producing events, composite reanalysis fields showed that synoptic-scale features influenced the precipitation pattern and timing: an approaching trough established southwesterly moist flow throughout the region and a nocturnal low-level jet transported moisture to its terminus in the northeast corner of the PECAN domain.

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Samuel K. Degelia, Xuguang Wang, and David J. Stensrud

Abstract

Numerical weather prediction models often fail to correctly forecast convection initiation (CI) at night. To improve our understanding of such events, researchers collected a unique dataset of thermodynamic and kinematic remote sensing profilers as part of the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment. This study evaluates the impacts made to a nocturnal CI forecast on 26 June 2015 by assimilating a network of atmospheric emitted radiance interferometers (AERIs), Doppler lidars, radio wind profilers, high-frequency rawinsondes, and mobile surface observations using an advanced, ensemble-based data assimilation system. Relative to operational forecasts, assimilating the PECAN dataset improves the timing, location, and orientation of the CI event. Specifically, radio wind profilers and rawinsondes are shown to be the most impactful instrument by enhancing the moisture advection into the region of CI in the forecast. Assimilating thermodynamic profiles collected by the AERIs increases midlevel moisture and improves the ensemble probability of CI in the forecast. The impacts of assimilating the radio wind profilers, AERI retrievals, and rawinsondes remain large throughout forecasting the growth of the CI event into a mesoscale convective system. Assimilating Doppler lidar and surface data only slightly improves the CI forecast by enhancing the convergence along an outflow boundary that partially forces the nocturnal CI event. Our findings suggest that a mesoscale network of profiling and surface instruments has the potential to greatly improve short-term forecasts of nocturnal convection.

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Stacey M. Hitchcock, Russ S. Schumacher, Gregory R. Herman, Michael C. Coniglio, Matthew D. Parker, and Conrad L. Ziegler

Abstract

During the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign, 15 mesoscale convective system (MCS) environments were sampled by an array of instruments including radiosondes launched by three mobile sounding teams. Additional soundings were collected by fixed and mobile PECAN integrated sounding array (PISA) groups for a number of cases. Cluster analysis of observed vertical profiles established three primary preconvective categories: 1) those with an elevated maximum in equivalent potential temperature below a layer of potential instability; 2) those that maintain a daytime-like planetary boundary layer (PBL) and nearly potentially neutral low levels, sometimes even well after sunset despite the existence of a southerly low-level wind maximum; and 3) those that are potentially neutral at low levels, but have very weak or no southerly low-level winds. Profiles of equivalent potential temperature in elevated instability cases tend to evolve rapidly in time, while cases in the potentially neutral categories do not. Analysis of composite Rapid Refresh (RAP) environments indicate greater moisture content and moisture advection in an elevated layer in the elevated instability cases than in their potentially neutral counterparts. Postconvective soundings demonstrate significantly more variability, but cold pools were observed in nearly every PECAN MCS case. Following convection, perturbations range between −1.9 and −9.1 K over depths between 150 m and 4.35 km, but stronger, deeper stable layers lead to structures where the largest cold pool temperature perturbation is observed above the surface.

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Kevin R. Haghi, Bart Geerts, Hristo G. Chipilski, Aaron Johnson, Samuel Degelia, David Imy, David B. Parsons, Rebecca D. Adams-Selin, David D. Turner, and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

There has been a recent wave of attention given to atmospheric bores in order to understand how they evolve and initiate and maintain convection during the night. This surge is attributable to data collected during the 2015 Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign. A salient aspect of the PECAN project is its focus on using multiple observational platforms to better understand convective outflow boundaries that intrude into the stable boundary layer and induce the development of atmospheric bores. The intent of this article is threefold: 1) to educate the reader on current and future foci of bore research, 2) to present how PECAN observations will facilitate aforementioned research, and 3) to stimulate multidisciplinary collaborative efforts across other closely related fields in an effort to push the limitations of prediction of nocturnal convection.

Open access
Elizabeth N. Smith, Joshua G. Gebauer, Petra M. Klein, Evgeni Fedorovich, and Jeremy A. Gibbs

Abstract

During the 2015 Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign, several nocturnal low-level jets (NLLJs) were observed with integrated boundary layer profiling systems at multiple sites. This paper gives an overview of selected PECAN NLLJ cases and presents a comparison of high-resolution observations with numerical simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. Analyses suggest that simulated NLLJs typically form earlier than the observed NLLJs. They are stronger than the observed counterparts early in the event, but weaker than the observed NLLJs later in the night. However, sudden variations in the boundary layer winds, height of the NLLJ maximum and core region, and potential temperature fields are well captured by the WRF Model. Simulated three-dimensional fields are used for a more focused analysis of PECAN NLLJ cases. While previous studies often related changes in the thermal structure of the nocturnal boundary layer and sudden mixing events to local features, we hypothesize that NLLJ spatial evolution plays an important role in such events. The NLLJ is shown to have heterogeneous depth, wind speed, and wind direction. This study offers detailed documentation of the heterogeneous NLLJ moving down the slope of the Great Plains overnight. As the NLLJ evolves, westerly advection becomes significant. Buoyancy-related mechanisms are proposed to explain NLLJ heterogeneity and down-slope motion. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the NLLJ is suggested as a source of the often observed and simulated updrafts during PECAN cases and as a possible mechanism for nocturnal convection initiation. The spatial and temporal characteristics of the NLLJ are interconnected and should not be treated independently.

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Aaron Johnson and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

Four case studies from the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field experiment are used to investigate the impacts of horizontal and vertical resolution, and vertical mixing parameterization, on predictions of bore structure and upscale impacts of bores on their mesoscale environment. The reduction of environmental convective inhibition (CIN) created by the bore is particularly emphasized. Simulations are run with horizontal grid spacings ranging from 250 to 1000 m, as well as 50 m for one case study, different vertical level configurations, and different closure models for the vertical turbulent mixing at 250-m horizontal resolution. The 11 July case study was evaluated in greatest detail because it was the best observed case and has been the focus of a previous study. For this case, it is found that 250-m grid spacing improves upon 1-km grid spacing, LES configuration provides further improvement, and enhanced low-level vertical resolution also provides further improvement in terms of qualitative agreement between simulated and observed bore structure. Reducing LES grid spacing further to 50 m provided very little additional advantage. Only the LES experiments properly resolved the upscale influence of reduced low-level CIN. Expanding on the 11 July case study, three other cases from PECAN with diverse observed bore structures were also evaluated. Similar to the 11 July case, enhancing the horizontal and vertical grid spacings, and using the LES closure model for vertical turbulent mixing, all contributed to improved simulations of both the bores themselves and the larger-scale modification of CIN to varying degrees on different cases.

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David M. Loveless, Timothy J. Wagner, David D. Turner, Steven A. Ackerman, and Wayne F. Feltz

Abstract

Atmospheric bores have been shown to have a role in the initiation and maintenance of elevated convection. Previous observational studies of bores have been case studies of more notable events. However, this creates a selection bias toward extraordinary cases, while discussions of the differences between bores that favor convective initiation and maintenance and bores that do not are lacking from the literature. This study attempts to fill that gap by analyzing a high-temporal-resolution thermodynamic profile composite of eight bores observed by multiple platforms during the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) campaign in order to assess the impact of bores on the environment. The time–height cross section of the potential temperature composite displays quasi-permanent parcel displacements up to 900 m with the bore passage. Low-level lifting is shown to weaken the capping inversion and reduce convective inhibition (CIN) and the level of free convection (LFC). Additionally, low-level water vapor increases by about 1 g kg−1 in the composite mean. By assessing variability across the eight cases, it is shown that increases in low-level water vapor result in increases to convective available potential energy (CAPE), while drying results in decreased CAPE. Most cases resulted in decreased CIN and LFC height with the bore passage, but only some cases resulted in increased CAPE. This suggests that bores will increase the potential for convective initiation, but future research should be directed toward better understanding cases that result in increased CAPE as those are the types of bores that will increase severity of convection.

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Manda B. Chasteen, Steven E. Koch, and David B. Parsons

Abstract

Nocturnal mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) frequently develop over the Great Plains in the presence of a nocturnal low-level jet (LLJ), which contributes to convective maintenance by providing a source of instability, convergence, and low-level vertical wind shear. Although these nocturnal MCSs often dissipate during the morning, many persist into the following afternoon despite the cessation of the LLJ with the onset of solar heating. The environmental factors enabling the postsunrise persistence of nocturnal convection are currently not well understood. A thorough investigation into the processes supporting the longevity and daytime persistence of an MCS was conducted using routine observations, RAP analyses, and a WRF-ARW simulation. Elevated nocturnal convection developed in response to enhanced frontogenesis, which quickly grew upscale into a severe quasi-linear convective system (QLCS). The western portion of this QLCS reorganized into a bow echo with a pronounced cold pool and ultimately an organized leading-line, trailing-stratiform MCS as it moved into an increasingly unstable environment. Differential advection resulting from the interaction of the nocturnal LLJ with the topography of west Texas established considerable heterogeneity in moisture, CAPE, and CIN, which influenced the structure and evolution of the MCS. An inland-advected moisture plume significantly increased near-surface CAPE during the nighttime over central Texas, while the environment over southeastern Texas abruptly destabilized following the commencement of surface heating and downward moisture transport. The unique topography of the southern plains and the close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico provided an environment conducive to the postsunrise persistence of the organized MCS.

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Matthew D. Flournoy and Michael C. Coniglio

Abstract

To better understand and forecast nocturnal thunderstorms and their hazards, an expansive network of fixed and mobile observing systems was deployed in the summer of 2015 for the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field experiment to observe low-level jets, convection initiation, bores, and mesoscale convective systems. On 5–6 July 2015, mobile radars and ground-based surface and upper-air profiling systems sampled a nocturnal, quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) over South Dakota. The QLCS produced several severe wind reports and an EF-0 tornado. The QLCS and its environment leading up to the mesovortex that produced this tornado were well observed by the PECAN observing network. In this study, observations from radiosondes, Doppler radars, and aircraft are assimilated into an ensemble analysis and forecasting system to analyze this event with a focus on the development of the observed tornadic mesovortex. All ensemble members simulated low-level mesovortices with one member in particular generating two mesovortices in a manner very similar to that observed. Forecasts from this member were analyzed to examine the processes increasing vertical vorticity during the development of the tornadic mesovortex. Cyclonic vertical vorticity was traced to three separate airstreams: the first from southerly inflow that was characterized by tilting of predominantly crosswise horizontal vorticity along the gust front, the second from the north that imported streamwise horizontal vorticity directly into the low-level updraft, and the third from a localized downdraft/rear-inflow jet in which the horizontal vorticity became streamwise during descent. The cyclonic vertical vorticity then intensified rapidly through intense stretching as the parcels entered the low-level updraft of the developing mesovortex.

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David B. Parsons, Kevin R. Haghi, Kelton T. Halbert, Blake Elmer, and Junhong Wang

Abstract

This investigation explores the relationship among bores, gravity waves, and convection within the nocturnal environment through the utilization of measurements taken during the International H2O Project (IHOP_2002) over the Southern Great Plains. The most favorable conditions for deep convection were found to occur within the boundary layer during the late afternoon and early evening hours in association with the diurnal cycle of solar insolation. At night, the layers most favorable for deep convection occur at and above the height of the nocturnal southerly low-level jet in association with distinct maxima in both the southerly and westerly components of the wind. Observations taken during the passage of 13 nocturnal wave disturbances over a comprehensive profiling site show the average maximum and net upward displacements with these waves were estimated to be ~900 and ~660 m, respectively. The lifting was not limited to the stable boundary layer, but reached into the conditionally unstable layers aloft. Since the net upward displacements persisted for many hours as the disturbances propagated away from the convection, areas well in excess of 10 000 km2 are likely impacted by this ascent. This lifting can directly maintain existing convection and aid in the initiation of new convection by reducing the convective inhibition in the vicinity of the active convection. In agreement with past studies, strong ascent in the lowest ~1.5 km was generally consistent with the passage of a bore. However, separate wave responses also occurred well above the bores, and low-frequency gravity waves may explain such disturbances.

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