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Léo Vinour
,
Swen Jullien
, and
Alexis Mouche

Abstract

Tropical cyclone (TC) intensity fluctuations remain a challenge for TC forecasters. Occurring through a wide range of processes, such as vortex contraction, eyewall replacements, or emission of vortex Rossby waves, they are inherently multiscale, transient, and asymmetric. In a recent study, estimates of surface wind field inner-core properties from high-resolution satellite observations were spotted as valuable for the improvement of intensity variations statistical predictability. The present study evaluates how the temporal evolution of the vortex structure, at scales ranging from O(1) km to vortexwide, further provides insights on the modulation of intensity. The study is based on a set of seven realistic TC simulations with 1-km grid spacing. The surface wind field structure is studied through an original set of descriptors that characterize the radial profile, the azimuthal asymmetries, and their spectral distribution. While radial gradients evolve concurrently with intensity, the azimuthal variability of the inner core shows a stronger connection with shorter-scale intensity modulation. The increase of high-wavenumber asymmetries distributed around the ring of maximum winds is shown to precede phases of rapid (re)intensification by 5–6 h, while the concentration of asymmetry in wavenumbers 1 and 2 leads to intensity weakening. A machine learning classification finally highlights that the classification of intensification phases (i.e., intensification or weakening) can be improved by at least 11% (thus reaching ∼75%) when accounting for the evolution of the radial wind gradient and the variance distribution among scales in the ring of maximum wind, relative to the sole use of vortex-averaged parameters.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this study is to relate changes in the surface wind field structure of tropical cyclones to their intensity variations. We design an original set of parameters to characterize the inner- and near-core contraction and asymmetry, and evaluate their connection with TC intensity modulations in a set of realistic high-resolution numerical simulations. The main outcome of our study is that opposite trends in high- and low-wavenumber variance tend to occur prior to intensity changes on short time scales, with more widespread and local-scale asymmetry corresponding to intensification, and vortex-scale polarized asymmetry corresponding to weakening. These diagnoses are shown to improve the classification of intensification and weakening phases. These results advocate for enhancing real-time high-resolution observations of surface wind fields under TCs, and using asymmetry distribution as predictors in statistical forecast models.

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David C. Fritts
,
Gerd Baumgarten
,
P.-Dominique Pautet
,
James H. Hecht
,
Bifford P. Williams
,
Natalie Kaifler
,
Bernd Kaifler
,
C. Bjorn Kjellstrand
,
Ling Wang
,
Michael J. Taylor
, and
Amber D. Miller

Abstract

Multiple recent observations in the mesosphere have revealed large-scale Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) exhibiting diverse spatial features and temporal evolutions. The first event reported by Hecht et al. exhibited multiple features resembling those seen to arise in early laboratory shear-flow studies described as “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics by Thorpe. The potential importance of T&K dynamics in the atmosphere, and in the oceans and other stratified and sheared fluids, is due to their accelerated turbulence transitions and elevated energy dissipation rates relative to KHI turbulence transitions occurring in their absence. Motivated by these studies, we survey recent observational evidence of multiscale Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities throughout the atmosphere, many features of which closely resemble T&K dynamics observed in the laboratory and idealized initial modeling. These efforts will guide further modeling assessing the potential importance of these T&K dynamics in turbulence generation, energy dissipation, and mixing throughout the atmosphere and other fluids. We expect these dynamics to have implications for parameterizing mixing and transport in stratified shear flows in the atmosphere and oceans that have not been considered to date. Companion papers describe results of a multiscale gravity wave direct numerical simulation (DNS) that serendipitously exhibits a number of KHI T&K events and an idealized multiscale DNS of KHI T&K dynamics without gravity wave influences.

Significance Statement

Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) occur throughout the atmosphere and induce turbulence and mixing that need to be represented in weather prediction and other models of the atmosphere and oceans. This paper documents recent atmospheric evidence for widespread, more intense, features of KHI dynamics that arise where KH billows are initially discontinuous, misaligned, or varying along their axes. These features initiate strong local vortex interactions described as “tubes” and “knots” in early laboratory experiments, suggested by, but not recognized in, earlier atmospheric and oceanic profiling, and only recently confirmed in newer, high-resolution atmospheric imaging and idealized modeling to date.

Open access
David C. Fritts
and
Ling Wang

Abstract

A companion paper by Fritts et al. reviews evidence for Kelvin–Helmholtz instability (KHI) “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics that appear to be widespread throughout the atmosphere. Here we describe the results of an idealized direct numerical simulation of multiscale gravity wave dynamics that reveals multiple larger- and smaller-scale KHI T&K events. The results enable assessments of the environments in which these dynamics arise and their competition with concurrent gravity wave breaking in driving turbulence and energy dissipation. A larger-scale event is diagnosed in detail and reveals diverse and intense T&K dynamics driving more intense turbulence than occurs due to gravity wave breaking in the same environment. Smaller-scale events reveal that KHI T&K dynamics readily extend to weaker, smaller-scale, and increasingly viscous shear flows. Our results suggest that KHI T&K dynamics should be widespread, perhaps ubiquitous, wherever superposed gravity waves induce intensifying shear layers, because such layers are virtually always present. A second companion paper demonstrates that KHI T&K dynamics exhibit elevated turbulence generation and energy dissipation rates extending to smaller Reynolds numbers for relevant KHI scales wherever they arise. These dynamics are suggested to be significant sources of turbulence and mixing throughout the atmosphere that are currently ignored or underrepresented in turbulence parameterizations in regional and global models.

Significance Statement

Atmospheric observations reveal that Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) often exhibit complex interactions described as “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics in the presence of larger-scale gravity waves (GWs). These dynamics may prove to make significant contributions to energy dissipation and mixing that are not presently accounted for in large-scale modeling and weather prediction. We explore here the occurrence of KHI T&K dynamics in an idealized model that describes their behavior and character arising at larger and smaller scales due to superposed, large-amplitude GWs. The results reveal that KHI T&K dynamics arise at larger and smaller scales, and that their turbulence intensities can be comparable to those of the GWs.

Open access
Edwin L. Dunnavan
and
Alexander V. Ryzhkov

Abstract

This study derives simple analytical expressions for the theoretical height profiles of particle number concentrations (Nt ) and mean volume diameters (Dm ) during the steady-state balance of vapor growth and collision–coalescence with sedimentation. These equations are general for both rain and snow gamma size distributions with size-dependent power-law functions that dictate particle fall speeds and masses. For collision–coalescence only, Nt (Dm ) decreases (increases) as an exponential function of the radar reflectivity difference between two height layers. For vapor deposition only, Dm increases as a generalized power law of this reflectivity difference. Simultaneous vapor deposition and collision–coalescence under steady-state conditions with conservation of number, mass, and reflectivity fluxes lead to a coupled set of first-order, nonlinear ordinary differential equations for Nt and Dm . The solutions to these coupled equations are generalized power-law functions of height z for Dm (z) and Nt (z) whereby each variable is related to one another with an exponent that is independent of collision–coalescence efficiency. Compared to observed profiles derived from descending in situ aircraft Lagrangian spiral profiles from the CRYSTAL-FACE field campaign, these analytical solutions can on average capture the height profiles of Nt and Dm within 8% and 4% of observations, respectively. Steady-state model projections of radar retrievals aloft are shown to produce the correct rapid enhancement of surface snowfall compared to the lowest-available radar retrievals from 500 m MSL. Future studies can utilize these equations alongside radar measurements to estimate Nt and Dm below radar tilt elevations and to estimate uncertain microphysical parameters such as collision–coalescence efficiencies.

Significance Statement

While complex numerical models are often used to describe weather phenomenon, sometimes simple equations can instead provide equally good or comparable results. Thus, these simple equations can be used in place of more complicated models in certain situations and this replacement can allow for computationally efficient and elegant solutions. This study derives such simple equations in terms of exponential and power-law mathematical functions that describe how the average size and total number of snow or rain particles change at different atmospheric height levels due to growth from the vapor phase and aggregation (the sticking together) of these particles balanced with their fallout from clouds. We catalog these mathematical equations for different assumptions of particle characteristics and we then test these equations using spirally descending aircraft observations and ground-based measurements. Overall, we show that these mathematical equations, despite their simplicity, are capable of accurately describing the magnitude and shape of observed height and time series profiles of particle sizes and numbers. These equations can be used by researchers and forecasters along with radar measurements to improve the understanding of precipitation and the estimation of its properties.

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Wei Huang
and
Ming Xue

Abstract

Multiple subvortices corresponding to suction vortices in observations are obtained within a simulated tornado for the EF4 tornado case of Funing, China, on 23 June 2016. Within the simulation, the tornado evolves from a one-cell structure with vorticity maximum at its center to a two-cell structure with a ring of vorticity maximum. Five well-defined subvortices develop along the ring. The radial profile of tangential wind across the vorticity ring satisfies the necessary condition of barotropic instability associated with phase-locked, counterpropagating vortex Rossby waves (VRWs) along the ring edges. The phased-locked waves revolve around the parent vortex at a speed less than the maximum azimuthal-mean tangential velocity, agreeing with theoretically predicted VRW phase speed. The radii within which the wave activities are confined are also correctly predicted by the VRW theory where radial group velocity approaches zero. Several other characteristics related to the simulated subvortices agree with VRW theories also. The most unstable azimuthal wavenumber depends on the width and the relative magnitude of vorticity of the vortex ring. Their values estimated from the simulation prior to subvortex formation correctly predict wavenumber 5 as the most unstable. The largest contribution to wave kinetic energy is diagnosed to be from the radial shear of azimuthal wind term, consistent with barotropic instability. Vorticity diagnostics show that vertical vorticity stretching is the primary vorticity source for the intensification and maintenance of the simulated subvortices.

Significance Statement

Multiple subvortices or suction vortices in tornadoes can produce extreme damage but their cause is not well understood. An intense tornado from China that developed five strong subvortices, along a vorticity ring a distance from the tornado vortex center, was successfully simulated. By examining the propagation and other characteristics of these subvortices and comparing them with theoretical models of vortex Rossby waves (VRWs) that have been studied mostly in the context of typhoons/hurricanes, it is believed that nonlinear growth of unstable VRWs associated with barotropic instability is the primary reason for the development of subvortices within the tornado. The conclusion is further supported by analyses of the primary source of wave growth energy. Vertical vorticity stretching is the main vorticity source for intensifying and maintaining the subvortices at their development and mature stages. The unstable growth of VRWs as the cause of tornado suction vortices has not been analyzed in detail for realistic tornadoes until now.

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Qiu Yang
,
L. Ruby Leung
,
Zhe Feng
, and
Xingchao Chen

Abstract

Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) bring large amounts of rainfall and strong wind gusts to the midlatitude land regions, with significant impacts on local weather and hydrologic cycle. However, weather and climate models face a huge challenge in accurately modeling the MCS life cycle and the associated precipitation, highlighting an urgent need for a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of MCS initiation and propagation. From a theoretical perspective, a suitable model to capture the realistic properties of MCSs and isolate the bare-bones mechanisms for their initiation, intensification, and eastward propagation is still lacking. To simulate midlatitude MCSs over land, we develop a simple moist potential vorticity (PV) model that readily describes the interactions among PV perturbations, air moisture, and soil moisture. Multiple experiments with or without various environmental factors and external forcing are used to investigate their impacts on MCS dynamics and mesoscale circulation vertical structures. The result shows that mechanical forcing can induce lower-level updraft and cooling, providing favorable conditions for MCS initiation. A positive feedback among surface winds, evaporation rate, and air moisture similar to the wind-induced surface heat exchange over tropical ocean is found to support MCS intensification. Both background surface westerlies and vertical westerly wind shear are shown to provide favorable conditions for the eastward propagation of MCSs. Last, our result highlights the crucial role of stratiform heating in shaping mesoscale circulation response. The model should serve as a useful tool for understanding the fundamental mechanisms of MCS dynamics.

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Pragallva Barpanda
,
Stefan N. Tulich
,
Juliana Dias
, and
George N. Kiladis

Abstract

The composite structure of the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) has long been known to feature pronounced Rossby gyres in the subtropical upper troposphere, whose existence can be interpreted as the forced response to convective heating anomalies in the presence of a subtropical westerly jet. The question of interest here is whether these forced gyre circulations have any subsequent effects on divergence patterns in the tropics and the Kelvin-mode component of the MJO. A nonlinear spherical shallow water model is used to investigate how the introduction of different background jet profiles affects the model’s steady-state response to an imposed MJO-like stationary thermal forcing. Results show that a stronger jet leads to a stronger Kelvin-mode response in the tropics up to a critical jet speed, along with stronger divergence anomalies in the vicinity of the forcing. To understand this behavior, additional calculations are performed in which a localized vorticity forcing is imposed in the extratropics, without any thermal forcing in the tropics. The response is once again seen to include pronounced equatorial Kelvin waves, provided the jet is of sufficient amplitude. A detailed analysis of the vorticity budget reveals that the zonal-mean zonal wind shear plays a key role in amplifying the Kelvin-mode divergent winds near the equator, with the effects of nonlinearities being of negligible importance. These results help to explain why the MJO tends to be strongest during boreal winter when the Indo-Pacific jet is typically at its strongest.

Significance Statement

The MJO is a planetary-scale convectively coupled equatorial disturbance that serves as a primary source of atmospheric predictability on intraseasonal time scales (30–90 days). Due to its dominance and spontaneous recurrence, the MJO has a significant global impact, influencing hurricanes in the tropics, storm tracks, and atmosphere blocking events in the midlatitudes, and even weather systems near the poles. Despite steady improvements in subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) forecast models, the MJO prediction skill has still not reached its maximum potential. The root of this challenge is partly due to our lack of understanding of how the MJO interacts with the background mean flow. In this work, we use a simple one-layer atmospheric model with idealized heating and vorticity sources to understand the impact of the subtropical jet on the MJO amplitude and its horizontal structure.

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Rusen Öktem
,
David M. Romps
, and
Adam C. Varble

Abstract

It has been proposed that air pollution increases the updraft speeds of warm-phase convective clouds by reducing their supersaturation and, thereby, enhancing their buoyancy. Observations from the GoAmazon field campaign, sampled using subjective criteria, have been offered as evidence for this warm-phase invigoration. Here, we reexamine those GoAmazon observations using objective sampling criteria and find no indication that air pollution increases warm-phase updraft speeds. In addition, the observations yield no statistically significant relationship between aerosol concentrations and either moist-convective vertical velocity or reflectivity in either the lower or upper troposphere.

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Ángel F. Adames Corraliza
and
Víctor C. Mayta

Abstract

The moist static energy (MSE) budget is widely used to understand moist atmospheric thermodynamics. However, the budget is not exact, and the accuracy of the approximations that yield it has not been examined rigorously in the context of large-scale tropical motions (horizontal scales ≥ 1000 km). A scale analysis shows that these approximations are most accurate in systems whose latent energy anomalies are considerably larger than the geopotential and kinetic energy anomalies. This condition is satisfied in systems that exhibit phase speeds and horizontal winds on the order of 10 m s−1 or less. Results from a power spectral analysis of data from the DYNAMO field campaign and ERA5 qualitatively agree with the scaling, although they indicate that the neglected terms are smaller than what the scaling suggests. A linear regression analysis of the MJO events that occurred during DYNAMO yields results that support these findings. It is suggested that the MSE budget is accurate in the tropics because motions within these latitudes are constrained to exhibit small fluctuations in geopotential and kinetic energy as a result of weak temperature gradient (WTG) balance.

Open access
Hongpei Yang
,
Yu Du
, and
Junhong Wei

Abstract

The generation of multiple wave couplets with deep tropospheric downdrafts/updrafts by convection is explored through idealized 2D moist numerical simulations as well as dry experiments with prescribed artificial latent heating. These wave couplets are capable of horizontally propagating over a long distance at a fast speed with vertical motions spanning the entire troposphere. The timing of wave generation is determined by the variation in the local heating rate, which arose from the imbalances among latent heating, nonlinear advection, and adiabatic heating/cooling. The amplitudes of wave couplets also correspond well with the strength of the local heating rate. The heat budget analysis highlights the crucial roles of both latent heating and nonlinear advection in the generation of the tropospheric wave couplets. Strong latent heating induces the thermodynamic imbalance and thus triggers waves. Meanwhile, latent heating also increases vertical motion in the source region and thus enhances nonlinear advection through transferring heat upward. Nonlinear advection, which has a comparable magnitude to latent heating in the upper troposphere, partially offsets the balancing effect of adiabatic heating/cooling, and results in a more persistent imbalance at high levels, allowing for the emission of consecutive waves even when latent heating becomes weak. In the simulation with weak nonlinear advection, fewer wave couplets are found, as the effect of latent heating is more easily offset by adiabatic cooling before it weakens.

Significance Statement

The generation of gravity waves in the troposphere by convection is of significant importance in the fields of atmospheric science and meteorology. The waves play a crucial role in the initiation and organization of convection, and the parameterization of wave momentum flux in global numerical models. This study aimed to investigate the generation of wave couplets in the troposphere through idealized numerical simulations with varying prescribed latent heating. The results showed that gravity wave couplets were generated in succession as a result of the imbalances among latent heating, nonlinear advection, and adiabatic heating/cooling. This study highlighted an important but yet complex issue of gravity waves being generated within convection by nonlinear sources other than latent heating, which had been neglected in many recent studies on the topic. These findings deepened our understanding of convectively generated gravity waves and paved the way for coupled wave–convection relationship studies.

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