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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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Bart Geerts
,
David Parsons
,
Conrad L. Ziegler
,
Tammy M. Weckwerth
,
Michael I. Biggerstaff
,
Richard D. Clark
,
Michael C. Coniglio
,
Belay B. Demoz
,
Richard A. Ferrare
,
William A. Gallus Jr.
,
Kevin Haghi
,
John M. Hanesiak
,
Petra M. Klein
,
Kevin R. Knupp
,
Karen Kosiba
,
Greg M. McFarquhar
,
James A. Moore
,
Amin R. Nehrir
,
Matthew D. Parker
,
James O. Pinto
,
Robert M. Rauber
,
Russ S. Schumacher
,
David D. Turner
,
Qing Wang
,
Xuguang Wang
,
Zhien Wang
, and
Joshua Wurman

Abstract

The central Great Plains region in North America has a nocturnal maximum in warm-season precipitation. Much of this precipitation comes from organized mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). This nocturnal maximum is counterintuitive in the sense that convective activity over the Great Plains is out of phase with the local generation of CAPE by solar heating of the surface. The lower troposphere in this nocturnal environment is typically characterized by a low-level jet (LLJ) just above a stable boundary layer (SBL), and convective available potential energy (CAPE) values that peak above the SBL, resulting in convection that may be elevated, with source air decoupled from the surface. Nocturnal MCS-induced cold pools often trigger undular bores and solitary waves within the SBL. A full understanding of the nocturnal precipitation maximum remains elusive, although it appears that bore-induced lifting and the LLJ may be instrumental to convection initiation and the maintenance of MCSs at night.

To gain insight into nocturnal MCSs, their essential ingredients, and paths toward improving the relatively poor predictive skill of nocturnal convection in weather and climate models, a large, multiagency field campaign called Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) was conducted in 2015. PECAN employed three research aircraft, an unprecedented coordinated array of nine mobile scanning radars, a fixed S-band radar, a unique mesoscale network of lower-tropospheric profiling systems called the PECAN Integrated Sounding Array (PISA), and numerous mobile-mesonet surface weather stations. The rich PECAN dataset is expected to improve our understanding and prediction of continental nocturnal warm-season precipitation. This article provides a summary of the PECAN field experiment and preliminary findings.

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Aaron Johnson
and
Xuguang Wang

Abstract

A real-time GSI-based and ensemble-based data assimilation (DA) and forecast system was implemented at the University of Oklahoma during the 2015 Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment. Extensive experiments on the configuration of the cycled DA and on both the DA and forecast physics ensembles were conducted using retrospective cases to optimize the system design for nocturnal convection. The impacts of radar DA between 1200 and 1300 UTC, as well as the frequency and number of DA cycles and the DA physics configuration, extend through the following night. Ten-minute cycling of radar DA leads to more skillful forecasts than both more and less frequent cycling. The Thompson microphysics scheme for DA better analyzes the effects of morning convection on environmental moisture than WSM6, which improves the convection forecast the following night. A multi-PBL configuration during DA leads to less skillful short-term forecasts than even a relatively poorly performing single-PBL scheme. Deterministic and ensemble forecast physics configurations are also evaluated. Thompson microphysics and the Mellor–Yamada–Nakanishi–Niino (MYNN) PBL provide the most skillful nocturnal precipitation forecasts. A well thought out multiphysics configuration is shown to provide advantages over evenly distributing three of the best-performing microphysics and PBL schemes or a fixed MYNN/Thompson ensemble. This is shown using objective and subjective verification of precipitation and nonprecipitation variables, including convective initiation. Predictions of the low-level jet are sensitive to the PBL scheme, with the best scheme being variable and time dependent. These results guided the implementation and verification of a real-time ensemble DA and forecast system for PECAN.

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Tammy M. Weckwerth
,
Kristy J. Weber
,
David D. Turner
, and
Scott M. Spuler

Abstract

A water vapor micropulse differential absorption lidar (DIAL) instrument was developed collaboratively by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Montana State University (MSU). This innovative, eye-safe, low-power, diode-laser-based system has demonstrated the ability to obtain unattended continuous observations in both day and night. Data comparisons with well-established water vapor observing systems, including radiosondes, Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometers (AERIs), microwave radiometer profilers (MWRPs), and ground-based global positioning system (GPS) receivers, show excellent agreement. The Pearson’s correlation coefficient for the DIAL and radiosondes is consistently greater than 0.6 from 300 m up to 4.5 km AGL at night and up to 3.5 km AGL during the day. The Pearson’s correlation coefficient for the DIAL and AERI is greater than 0.6 from 300 m up to 2.25 km at night and from 300 m up to 2.0 km during the day. Further comparison with the continuously operating GPS instrumentation illustrates consistent temporal trends when integrating the DIAL measurements up to 6 km AGL.

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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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