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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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Thomas R. Parish

Abstract

The low-level jet (LLJ) is a ubiquitous feature of the lower atmosphere over the Great Plains during summer. The LLJ is a nocturnal phenomenon, developing during the 6–9-h period after sunset. Forcing of the LLJ has been debated for over 60 years, the focus being on two processes: decoupling of the residual layer from the surface owing to nighttime cooling and diurnal heating and cooling of the sloping Great Plains topography.

To examine characteristics and forcing mechanisms for the LLJ, composite grids were compiled from the North American Mesoscale Forecast System for the summertime months of June and July over a 5-yr period (2008–12). One composite set was assembled from well-developed LLJ episodes during which the maximum nocturnal jet magnitude at 0900 UTC over northwestern Oklahoma exceeded 20 m s−1. A second set consists of nonjet conditions for which the maximum nighttime wind magnitude in the lowest 3 km did not exceed 10 m s−1.

The intensity of the horizontal pressure gradient and hence background geostrophic flow at jet level was the dominant difference between composite cases. The horizontal pressure gradient forms in response to the thermal wind above jet level that results primarily from seasonal heating of the sloping Great Plains. Thermal wind forcing is thus the key link between the Great Plains and the high frequency of LLJ occurrence. The nocturnal wind maximum develops primarily because of the inertial oscillation of the ageostrophic wind occurring after decoupling of the lower atmosphere from the surface owing to radiational cooling in the early evening.

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W. G. Blumberg
,
T. J. Wagner
,
D. D. Turner
, and
J. Correia Jr.

Abstract

While radiosondes have provided atmospheric scientists an accurate high-vertical-resolution profile of the troposphere for decades, they are unable to provide high-temporal-resolution observations without significant recurring expenses. Remote sensing technology, however, has the ability to monitor the evolution of the atmosphere in unprecedented detail. One particularly promising tool is the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI), a passive ground-based infrared radiometer. Through a physical retrieval, the AERI can retrieve the vertical profile of temperature and humidity at a temporal resolution on the order of minutes. The synthesis of these two instruments may provide an improved diagnosis of the processes occurring in the atmosphere. This study provides a better understanding of the capabilities of the AERI in environments supportive of deep, moist convection. Using 3-hourly radiosonde launches and thermodynamic profiles retrieved from collocated AERIs, this study evaluates the accuracy of AERI-derived profiles over the diurnal cycle by analyzing AERI profiles in both the convective and stable boundary layers. Monte Carlo sampling is used to calculate the distribution of convection indices and compare the impact of measurement errors from each instrument platform on indices. This study indicates that the nonintegrated indices (e.g., lifted index) derived from AERI retrievals are more accurate than integrated indices (e.g., CAPE). While the AERI retrieval’s vertical resolution can inhibit precise diagnoses of capping inversions, the high-temporal-resolution nature of the AERI profiles overall helps in detecting rapid temporal changes in stability.

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J. C. Hubbert

Abstract

Temporal differential reflectivity bias variations are investigated using the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) S-band dual-polarization Doppler radar (S-Pol). Using data from the Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera-Ready (MASCRAD) Experiment, S-Pol measurements over extended periods reveal a significant correlation between the ambient temperature at the radar site and the bias. Using radar scans of the sun and the ratio of cross-polar powers, the components of the radar that cause the variation of the bias are identified. It is postulated that the thermal expansion of the antenna is likely the primary cause of the observed bias variation. The cross-polar power (CP) calibration technique, which is based on the solar and cross-polar power measurements, is applied to data from the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field project. The bias from the CP technique is compared to vertical-pointing bias measurements, and the uncertainty of the bias estimates is given. An algorithm is derived to correct the radar data for the time- and temperature-varying bias. Bragg scatter measurements are used to corroborate the CP technique bias measurements.

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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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Evgeni Fedorovich
,
Jeremy A. Gibbs
, and
Alan Shapiro

Abstract

Nocturnal low-level jets (LLJs) over gently sloping terrain typical of the U.S. Great Plains are investigated by means of direct numerical simulation. Such LLJs develop in a tilted atmospheric boundary layer as a result of inertia–gravity oscillations initiated by a change of the surface thermal forcing during the evening transition. External parameters are the free-atmospheric geostrophic wind, ambient atmospheric stratification, surface buoyancy forcing, and slope angle. The governing momentum and buoyancy balance equations are written in slope-following coordinates, and solved numerically in the Boussinesq approximation. The surface forcing is prescribed in a form of surface buoyancy or buoyancy flux, both of which are slope-uniform but change in time. LLJs over slopes are contrasted with LLJs over flat terrain.

Slope-induced effects essentially modify the entire structure of nocturnal LLJs. The shape of the LLJ wind profile over a slope is characterized by a sharper and larger-magnitude maximum. The presence of the slope causes the along-slope advection of environmental potential temperature during the night. This advection can reignite static instability in the LLJ flow developing after the evening transition. The resulting turbulence leads to a complete or partial remix of the boundary layer flow and drastically changes the appearance of the LLJ in terms of its shape and vertical position. A pronounced nighttime jet can also develop from the daytime convective boundary layer in the absence of any free-atmospheric geostrophic forcing. The daytime flow preconditioning, an important precursor of the nocturnal LLJ development, plays an especially important role in LLJs over a slope.

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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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Sean Stelten
and
William A. Gallus Jr.

Abstract

The prediction of convective initiation remains a challenge to forecasters in the Great Plains, especially for elevated events at night. This study examines a subset of 287 likely elevated nocturnal convective initiation events that occurred with little or no direct influence from surface boundaries or preexisting convection over a 4-month period of May–August during the summer of 2015. Events were first classified into one of four types based on apparent formation mechanisms and location relative to any low-level jet. A climatology of each of the four types was performed focusing on general spatial tendencies over a large Great Plains domain and initiation timing trends. Simulations from five convection-allowing models available during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign, along with four versions of a 4-km Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model, were used to examine the predictability of these types of convective initiation. A dual-peak pattern for initiation timing was revealed, with one peak near 0400 UTC and another around 0700 UTC. The times and prominence of each peak shifted depending on the region analyzed. Positive thermal advection by the geostrophic wind was present in the majority of events for three types but not for the type occurring without a low-level jet. Models were more deficient with location than timing for the five PECAN models, with the four 4-km WRF Models showing similar location errors and problems with initiating convection at a lower altitude than observed.

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