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Joshua G. Gebauer
,
Alan Shapiro
,
Evgeni Fedorovich
, and
Petra Klein

Abstract

Observations from three nights of the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign were used in conjunction with Rapid Refresh model forecasts to find the cause of north–south lines of convection, which initiated away from obvious surface boundaries. Such pristine convection initiation (CI) is relatively common during the warm season over the Great Plains of the United States. The observations and model forecasts revealed that all three nights had horizontally heterogeneous and veering-with-height low-level jets (LLJs) of nonuniform depth. The veering and heterogeneity were associated with convergence at the top-eastern edge of the LLJ, where moisture advection was also occurring. As time progressed, this upper region became saturated and, due to its placement above the capping inversion, formed moist absolutely unstable layers, from which the convergence helped initiate elevated convection. The structure of the LLJs on the CI nights was likely influenced by nonuniform heating across the sloped terrain, which led to the uneven LLJ depth and contributed toward the wind veering with height through the creation of horizontal buoyancy gradients. These three CI events highlight the importance of assessing the full three-dimensional structure of the LLJ when forecasting nocturnal convection over the Great Plains.

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

Abstract

The initiation of new convection at night in the Great Plains contributes to a nocturnal maximum in precipitation and produces localized heavy rainfall and severe weather hazards in the region. Although previous work has evaluated numerical model forecasts and data assimilation (DA) impacts for convection initiation (CI), most previous studies focused only on convection that initiates during the afternoon and not explicitly on nocturnal thunderstorms. In this study, we investigate the impact of assimilating in situ and radar observations for a nocturnal CI event on 25 June 2013 using an ensemble-based DA and forecast system. Results in this study show that a successful CI forecast resulted only when assimilating conventional in situ observations on the inner, convection-allowing domain. Assimilating in situ observations strengthened preexisting convection in southwestern Kansas by enhancing buoyancy and locally strengthening low-level convergence. The enhanced convection produced a cold pool that, together with increased convergence along the northwestern low-level jet (LLJ) terminus near the region of CI, was an important mechanism for lifting parcels to their level of free convection. Gravity waves were also produced atop the cold pool that provided further elevated ascent. Assimilating radar observations further improved the forecast by suppressing spurious convection and reducing the number of ensemble members that produced CI along a spurious outflow boundary. The fact that the successful CI forecasts resulted only when the in situ observations were assimilated suggests that accurately capturing the preconvective environment and specific mesoscale features is especially important for nocturnal CI forecasts.

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J. W. Wilson
,
S. B. Trier
,
D. W. Reif
,
R. D. Roberts
, and
T. M. Weckwerth

Abstract

During the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment, an isolated hailstorm developed on the western side of the PECAN study area on the night of 3–4 July 2015. One of the objectives of PECAN was to advance knowledge of the processes and conditions leading to pristine nocturnal convection initiation (CI). This nocturnal hailstorm developed more than 160 km from any other convective storms and in the absence of any surface fronts or bores. The storm initiated within 110 km of the S-Pol radar; directly over a vertically pointing Doppler lidar; within 25 km of the University of Wyoming King Air flight track; within a network of nine sounding sites taking 2-hourly soundings; and near a mobile mesonet track. Importantly, even beyond 100 km in range, S-Pol observed the preconvection initiation cloud that was collocated with the satellite infrared cloud image and provided information on the evolution of cloud growth. The multiple observations of cloud base, thermodynamic stability, and direct updraft observations were used to determine that the updraft roots were elevated. Diagnostic analysis presented in the paper suggests that CI was aided by lower-tropospheric gravity waves occurring in an environment of weak but persistent mesoscale lifting.

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Dana Mueller
,
Bart Geerts
,
Zhien Wang
,
Min Deng
, and
Coltin Grasmick

Abstract

This study documents the evolution of an impressive, largely undular bore triggered by an MCS-generated density current on 20 June 2015, observed as part of the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment. The University of Wyoming King Air with profiling nadir- and zenith-viewing lidars sampled the south-bound bore from the time the first bore wave emerged from the nocturnal convective cold pool and where updrafts over 10 m s−1 and turbulence in the wave’s wake were encountered, through the early dissipative stage in which the leading wave began to lose amplitude and speed. Through most of the bore’s life cycle, its second wave had a higher or equal amplitude relative to the leading wave. Striking roll clouds formed in wave crests and wave energy was detected to about 5 km AGL. The upstream environment indicates a negative Scorer parameter region due to flow reversal at midlevels, providing a wave trapping mechanism. The observed bore strength of 2.4–2.9 and speed of 15–16 m s−1 agree well with values predicted from hydraulic theory. Surface and profiling measurements collected later in the bore’s life cycle, just after sunrise, indicate a transition to a soliton.

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David J. Bodine
and
Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

This study examines organizational changes and periods of rapid forward propagation in an MCS on 6 July 2015 in South Dakota. The MCS case was the focus of a Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) IOP. Data from the Sioux Falls WSR-88D and a high-resolution WRF simulation are analyzed to examine two periods of rapid forward propagation (or surges) and organizational changes. During the first surge (surge A), the northern portion of the convective line propagates eastward faster than the southern portion, and the northern portion of the leading line transitions from a single convective core to a multicellular structure as it merges with convection initiation. Radar reflectivity factor Z and graupel concentrations decrease above the melting layer, while at lower altitudes Z increases. The MCS cold pool also intensifies and deepens beneath an expanded region of high rainwater content and subsaturated air. Throughout surge A, a mesoscale circulation with strong rear-to-front near-surface flow and front-to-rear midlevel flow is also evident. By the end of surge A, the leading edge of the MCS cold pool is beneath developing convection initiation ahead of the original convective line while the original convective updraft weakened and moved rearward. This MCS evolution is similar to discrete propagation events discussed in past studies, except with new convection developing along an intersecting convective band. During surge B, the MCS transitions from a multicellular structure to a single, intense updraft. Smaller microphysical and thermodynamic changes are observed within the MCS during surge B compared to surge A, and the mesoscale circulation continues to develop.

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John M. Peters
,
Erik R. Nielsen
,
Matthew D. Parker
,
Stacey M. Hitchcock
, and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

This article investigates errors in forecasts of the environment near an elevated mesoscale convective system (MCS) in Iowa on 24–25 June 2015 during the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign. The eastern flank of this MCS produced an outflow boundary (OFB) and moved southeastward along this OFB as a squall line. The western flank of the MCS remained quasi stationary approximately 100 km north of the system’s OFB and produced localized flooding. A total of 16 radiosondes were launched near the MCS’s eastern flank and 4 were launched near the MCS’s western flank.

Convective available potential energy (CAPE) increased and convective inhibition (CIN) decreased substantially in observations during the 4 h prior to the arrival of the squall line. In contrast, the model analyses and forecasts substantially underpredicted CAPE and overpredicted CIN owing to their underrepresentation of moisture. Numerical simulations that placed the MCS at varying distances too far to the northeast were analyzed. MCS displacement error was strongly correlated with models’ underrepresentation of low-level moisture and their associated overrepresentation of the vertical distance between a parcel’s initial height and its level of free convection ( , which is correlated with CIN). The overpredicted in models resulted in air parcels requiring unrealistically far northeastward travel in a region of gradual meso-α-scale lift before these parcels initiated convection. These results suggest that erroneous MCS predictions by NWP models may sometimes result from poorly analyzed low-level moisture fields.

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Stanley B. Trier
,
James W. Wilson
,
David A. Ahijevych
, and
Ryan A. Sobash

Abstract

Radiosonde measurements from the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) 2015 field campaign are used to diagnose mesoscale vertical motions near nocturnal convection initiation (CI). These CI events occur in distinctly different environments including ones with 1) strong forcing for ascent associated with a synoptic cold front and midtropospheric short wave, 2) nocturnal low-level jets interacting with weaker quasi-stationary fronts, or 3) the absence of a surface front or boundary altogether. Radiosonde-derived vertical motion profiles in each of these CI environments are characterized by low- to midtropospheric ascent. The representativeness of these vertical motion profiles is supported by distributions of corresponding mesoscale averages from model-produced 0–6-h ensemble forecasts. Thermodynamic data from radiosondes are then analyzed along with selected model ensemble members to elucidate the role of the vertical motions on subsequent CI. In a case with strong forcing for mesoscale ascent, vertical motions facilitated CI by reducing convection inhibition (CIN). However, in the majority of cases, weaker but persistent vertical motions contributed to the development of elevated, approximately saturated layers with lapse rates greater than moist adiabatic. Such layers have negligible CIN and, thereby, the capacity to support CI even without strong finescale triggering mechanisms in the environment. This aspect may distinguish much central U.S. nocturnal CI from typical daytime CI. The elevated unstable layers occur in disparate large-scale environments, but a common aspect of their development is mesoscale ascent in the presence of warm advection, which results in upward transports of moisture (contributing to local increases of moist static energy) with adiabatic cooling above.

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Dylan W. Reif
and
Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

A nocturnal maximum in rainfall and thunderstorm activity over the central Great Plains has been widely documented, but the mechanisms for the development of thunderstorms over that region at night are still not well understood. Elevated convection above a surface frontal boundary is one explanation, but this study shows that many thunderstorms form at night without the presence of an elevated frontal inversion or nearby surface boundary.

This study documents convection initiation (CI) events at night over the central Great Plains from 1996 to 2015 during the months of April–July. Storm characteristics such as storm type, linear system orientation, initiation time and location, and others were documented. Once all of the cases were documented, surface data were examined to locate any nearby surface boundaries. The event’s initiation location relative to these boundaries (if a boundary existed) was documented. Two main initiation locations relative to a surface boundary were identified: on a surface boundary and on the cold side of a surface boundary; CI events also occur without any nearby surface boundary. There are many differences among the different nocturnal CI modes. For example, there appear to be two main peaks of initiation time at night: one early at night and one later at night. The later peak is likely due to the events that form without a nearby surface boundary. Finally, a case study of three nocturnal CI events that occurred during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field project when there was no nearby surface boundary is discussed.

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Thomas R. Parish

Abstract

Detailed ground-based and airborne measurements were conducted of the summertime Great Plains low-level jet (LLJ) in central Kansas during the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) campaign. Airborne measurements using the University of Wyoming King Air were made to document the vertical wind profile and the forcing of the jet during the nighttime hours on 3 June 2015. Two flights were conducted that document the evolution of the LLJ from sunset to dawn. Each flight included a series of vertical sawtooth and isobaric legs along a fixed track at 38.7°N between longitudes 98.9° and 100°W.

Comparison of the 3 June 2015 LLJ was made with a composite LLJ case obtained from gridded output from the North American Mesoscale Forecast System for June and July of 2008 and 2009. Forcing of the LLJ was detected using cross sections of D values that allow measurement of the vertical profile of the horizontal pressure gradient force and the thermal wind. Combined with observations of the actual wind, ageostrophic components normal to the flight track can be detected. Observations show that the 3 June 2015 LLJ displayed classic features of the LLJ, including an inertial oscillation of the ageostrophic wind. Oscillations in the geostrophic wind as a result of diurnal heating and cooling of the sloping terrain are not responsible for the nocturnal wind maximum. Net daytime heating of the sloping Great Plains, however, is responsible for the development of a strong background geostrophic wind that is critical to formation of the LLJ.

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