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T. Connor Nelson, James Marquis, John M. Peters, and Katja Friedrich

Abstract

This study synthesizes the results of 13 high-resolution simulations of deep convective updrafts forming over idealized terrain using environments observed during the RELAMPAGO and CACTI field projects. Using composite soundings from multiple observed cases, and variations upon them, we explore the sensitivity of updraft properties (e.g., size, buoyancy, and vertical pressure gradient forces) to influences of environmental relative humidity, wind shear, and mesoscale orographic forcing that support or suppress deep convection initiation (CI). Emphasis is placed on differentiating physical processes affecting the development of updrafts (e.g., entrainment-driven dilution of updrafts) in environments typifying observed successful and null (i.e., no CI despite affirmative operational forecasts) CI events. Thermally induced mesoscale orographic lift favors the production of deep updrafts originating from ∼1- to 2-km-wide boundary layer thermals. Simulations without terrain forcing required much larger (∼5-km-wide) thermals to yield precipitating convection. CI outcome was quite sensitive to environmental relative humidity; updrafts with increased buoyancy, depth, and intensity thrived in otherwise inhospitable environments by simply increasing the free-tropospheric relative humidity. This implicates the entrainment of free-tropospheric air into updrafts as a prominent governor of CI, consistent with previous studies. Sensitivity of CI to the environmental wind is manifested by 1) low-level flow affecting the strength and depth of mesoscale convergence along the terrain, and 2) clouds encountering updraft-suppressing pressure gradient forces while interacting with vertical wind shear in the free troposphere. Among the ensemble of thermals occurring in each simulation, the widest deep updrafts in each simulation were the most sensitive to environmental influences.

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Clayton R. S. Sasaki, Angela K. Rowe, Lynn A. McMurdie, and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

The Remote sensing of Electrification, Lightning, And Mesoscale/microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations (RELAMPAGO) campaign produced unparalleled observations of the South American low-level jet (SALLJ) in central Argentina with high temporal observations located in the path of the jet and upstream of rapidly growing convection. The vertical and temporal structure of the jet is characterized using 3-hourly soundings launched at two fixed sites near the Sierras de Córdoba (SDC), along with high-resolution reanalysis data. Objective SALLJ identification criteria are applied to each sounding to determine the presence, timing, and vertical characteristics of the jet. The observations largely confirm prior results showing that SALLJs most frequently come from the north, occur overnight, and peak in the low levels, though SALLJs notably peaked higher near the end of longer-duration events during RELAMPAGO. This study categorizes SALLJs into shorter-duration events with jet cores peaking overnight in the low levels and longer 5–6-day events with elevated jets near the end of the period that lack a clear diurnal cycle. Evidence of both boundary layer processes and large-scale forcing were observed during shorter-duration events, whereas synoptic forcing dominated the longer 5–6-day events. The highest amounts of moisture and larger convective coverage east of the SDC occurred near the end of the 5–6-day SALLJ events.

Significance Statement

The South American low-level jet (SALLJ) is an area of enhanced northerly winds that likely contributes to long-lived, widespread thunderstorms in Southeastern South America (SESA). This study uses observations from a recent SESA field project to improve understanding of the variability of the SALLJ and the underlying processes. We related jet occurrence to upper-level environmental patterns and differences in the progression speed of those patterns to varying durations of the jet. Longer-duration jets were more elevated, transported moisture southward from the Amazon, and coincided with the most widespread storms. These findings enable future research to study the role of the SALLJ in the life cycle of storms in detail, leading to improved storm prediction in SESA.

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Zhe Feng, Adam Varble, Joseph Hardin, James Marquis, Alexis Hunzinger, Zhixiao Zhang, and Mandana Thieman

Abstract

This study characterizes the wide range of deep convective cloud life cycles and their relationships with ambient environments observed during the Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign near the Sierras de Córdoba (SDC) range in central Argentina. We develop a novel convective cell tracking database for the entire field campaign using C-band polarimetric radar observations. The cell tracking database includes timing, location, area, depth, merge/split information, microphysical properties, collocated satellite-retrieved cloud properties, and sounding-derived environmental conditions. Results show that the SDC exerts a strong control on convection initiation (CI) and growth. CI preferentially occurs east of the SDC ridge during the afternoon, and cells often undergo upscale growth through the evening as they travel eastward toward the plains. Larger and more intense cells tend to occur in more unstable and humid low-level environments, and surface-based cells are stronger than elevated cells. Midtropospheric relative humidity and vertical wind shear also jointly affect the size and depth of the cells. Rapid cell area growth rates exhibit dependence on both large environmental wind shear and low-level moisture. Evolution of convective cell macro- and microphysical properties are strongly influenced by convective available potential energy and low-level humidity, as well as the presence of other cells in their vicinity. This cell tracking database demonstrates a framework that ties measurements from various platforms centering around convective life cycles to facilitate process understanding of factors that control convective evolution.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this study is to develop a framework that ties coordinated radar, satellite, and radiosonde measurements around tracking convective storm life cycles to facilitate process understanding of atmospheric environments that control storm evolution. The processes coupling storm life cycles and local environments remain inadequately understood and are poorly represented in weather and climate models. Our results demonstrate the importance of atmospheric instability, low- and midtropospheric moisture, changes of wind with height, and interactions among nearby storms in affecting the formation and growth of convective storms. The storm database developed in this work enables future studies for comprehensive exploration of processes that lead to improved mechanistic understanding of storm evolution and their representations in models.

Open access
Itinderjot Singh, Stephen W. Nesbitt, and Christopher A. Davis

Abstract

The Sierras de Córdoba (SDC) range in Argentina is a hotspot of deep moist convection initiation (CI). Radar climatology indicates that 44% of daytime CI events that occur near the SDC in spring and summer seasons and that are not associated with the passage of a cold front or an outflow boundary involve a northerly low-level jet (LLJ), and these events tend to preferentially occur over the southeast quadrant of the main ridge of the SDC. To investigate the physical mechanisms acting to cause CI, idealized convection-permitting numerical simulations with a horizontal grid spacing of 1 km were conducted using Cloud Model 1 (CM1). The sounding used for initializing the model featured a strong northerly LLJ, with synoptic conditions resembling those in a previously postulated conceptual model of CI over the region, making it a canonical case study. Differential heating of the mountain caused by solar insolation in conjunction with the low-level northerly flow sets up a convergence line on the eastern slopes of the SDC. The southern portion of this line experiences significant reduction in convective inhibition, and CI occurs over the SDC southeast quadrant. The simulated storm soon acquires supercellular characteristics, as observed. Additional simulations with varying LLJ strength also show CI over the southeast quadrant. A simulation without background flow generated convergence over the ridgeline, with widespread CI across the entire ridgeline. A simulation with mid- and upper-tropospheric westerlies removed indicates that CI is minimally influenced by gravity waves. We conclude that the low-level jet is sufficient to focus convection initiation over the southeast quadrant of the ridge.

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Gimena Casaretto, Maria Eugenia Dillon, Paola Salio, Yanina García Skabar, Stephen W. Nesbitt, Russ S. Schumacher, Carlos Marcelo García, and Carlos Catalini

Abstract

Sierras de Córdoba (Argentina) is characterized by the occurrence of extreme precipitation events during the austral warm season. Heavy precipitation in the region has a large societal impact, causing flash floods. This motivates the forecast performance evaluation of 24-h accumulated precipitation and vertical profiles of atmospheric variables from different numerical weather prediction (NWP) models with the final aim of helping water management in the region. The NWP models evaluated include the Global Forecast System (GFS), which parameterizes convection, and convection-permitting simulations of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model configured by three institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC), Colorado State University (CSU), and National Meteorological Service of Argentina (SMN). These models were verified with daily accumulated precipitation data from rain gauges and soundings during the RELAMPAGO-CACTI field campaign. Generally all configurations of the higher-resolution WRFs outperformed the lower-resolution GFS based on multiple metrics. Among the convection-permitting WRF Models, results varied with respect to rainfall threshold and forecast lead time, but the WRFUIUC mostly performed the best. However, elevation-dependent biases existed among the models that may impact the use of the data for different applications. There is a dry (moist) bias in lower (upper) pressure levels which is most pronounced in the GFS. For Córdoba an overestimation of the northern flow forecasted by the NWP configurations at lower levels was encountered. These results show the importance of convection-permitting forecasts in this region, which should be complementary to the coarser-resolution global model forecasts to help various users and decision-makers.

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Kristen L. Rasmussen, Melissa A. Burt, Angela Rowe, Rebecca Haacker, Deanna Hence, Lorena Medina Luna, Stephen W. Nesbitt, and Julie Maertens

Abstract

This article provides an overview of the Advanced Study Institute: Field Studies of Convection in Argentina (ASI-FSCA) program, a 3-week dynamic and collaborative hands-on experience that allowed 16 highly motivated and diverse graduate students from the United States to participate in the 2018–19 Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, and Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations (RELAMPAGO) field campaign. This program is unique as it represents the first effort to integrate an intensive Advanced Study Institute with a field campaign in atmospheric science. ASI-FSCA activities and successful program outcomes for five key elements are described: 1) intensive field research with field campaign instrumentation platforms; 2) recruitment of diverse graduate students who would not otherwise have opportunities to participate in intensive field research; 3) tailored curriculum focused on scientific understanding of cloud and mesoscale processes and professional/academic development topics; 4) outreach to local K–12 schools and the general public; and 5) building a collaborative international research network to promote weather and climate research. These five elements served to increase motivation and improve confidence and self-efficacy of students to participate in scientific research and field work with goals of increasing retention and a sense of belonging in STEM graduate programs and advancing the careers of students from underrepresented groups as evidenced by a formal program evaluation effort. Given the success of the ASI-FSCA program, our team strongly recommends considering this model for expanding the opportunities for a broader and more diverse student community to participate in dynamic and intensive field work in atmospheric science.

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Zhixiao Zhang, Adam Varble, Zhe Feng, Joseph Hardin, and Edward Zipser

Abstract

A 6.5-month, convection-permitting simulation is conducted over Argentina covering the Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, And Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations and Clouds, Aerosols, and Complex Terrain Interactions (RELAMPAGO-CACTI) field campaign and is compared with observations to evaluate mesoscale convective system (MCS) growth prediction. Observed and simulated MCSs are consistently identified, tracked, and separated into growth, mature, and decay stages using top-of-the-atmosphere infrared brightness temperature and surface rainfall. Simulated MCS number, lifetime, seasonal and diurnal cycles, and various cloud-shield characteristics including growth rate are similar to those observed. However, the simulation produces smaller rainfall areas, greater proportions of heavy rainfall, and faster system propagations. Rainfall area is significantly underestimated for long-lived MCSs but not for shorter-lived MCSs, and rain rates are always overestimated. These differences result from a combination of model and satellite retrieval biases, in which simulated MCS rain rates are shifted from light to heavy, while satellite-retrieved rainfall is too frequent relative to rain gauge estimates. However, the simulation reproduces satellite-retrieved MCS cloud-shield evolution well, supporting its usage to examine environmental controls on MCS growth. MCS initiation locations are associated with removal of convective inhibition more than maximized low-level moisture convergence or instability. Rapid growth is associated with a stronger upper-level jet (ULJ) and a deeper northwestern Argentinean low that causes a stronger northerly low-level jet (LLJ), increasing heat and moisture fluxes, low-level vertical wind shear, baroclinicity, and instability. Sustained growth corresponds to similar LLJ, baroclinicity, and instability conditions but is less sensitive to the ULJ, large-scale vertical motion, or low-level shear. Growth sustenance controls MCS maximum extent more than growth rate.

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James N. Marquis, Adam C. Varble, Paul Robinson, T. Connor Nelson, and Katja Friedrich

Abstract

Data from scanning radars, radiosondes, and vertical profilers deployed during three field campaigns are analyzed to study interactions between cloud-scale updrafts associated with initiating deep moist convection and the surrounding environment. Three cases are analyzed in which the radar networks permitted dual-Doppler wind retrievals in clear air preceding and during the onset of surface precipitation. These observations capture the evolution of (i) the mesoscale and boundary layer flow, and (ii) low-level updrafts associated with deep moist convection initiation (CI) events yielding sustained or short-lived precipitating storms. The elimination of convective inhibition did not distinguish between sustained and unsustained CI events, though the vertical distribution of convective available potential energy may have played a role. The clearest signal differentiating the initiation of sustained versus unsustained precipitating deep convection was the depth of the low-level horizontal wind convergence associated with the mesoscale flow feature triggering CI, a sharp surface wind shift boundary, or orographic upslope flow. The depth of the boundary layer relative to the height of the LFC failed to be a consistent indicator of CI potential. Widths of the earliest detectable low-level updrafts associated with sustained precipitating deep convection were ~3–5 km, larger than updrafts associated with surrounding boundary layer turbulence (~1–3 km wide). It is hypothesized that updrafts of this larger size are important for initiating cells to survive the destructive effects of buoyancy dilution via entrainment.

Open access
Stephen W. Nesbitt, Paola V. Salio, Eldo Ávila, Phillip Bitzer, Lawrence Carey, V. Chandrasekar, Wiebke Deierling, Francina Dominguez, Maria Eugenia Dillon, C. Marcelo Garcia, David Gochis, Steven Goodman, Deanna A. Hence, Karen A. Kosiba, Matthew R. Kumjian, Timothy Lang, Lorena Medina Luna, James Marquis, Robert Marshall, Lynn A. McMurdie, Ernani de Lima Nascimento, Kristen L. Rasmussen, Rita Roberts, Angela K. Rowe, Juan José Ruiz, Eliah F.M.T. São Sabbas, A. Celeste Saulo, Russ S. Schumacher, Yanina Garcia Skabar, Luiz Augusto Toledo Machado, Robert J. Trapp, Adam C. Varble, James Wilson, Joshua Wurman, Edward J. Zipser, Ivan Arias, Hernán Bechis, and Maxwell A. Grover

Abstract

This article provides an overview of the experimental design, execution, education and public outreach, data collection, and initial scientific results from the Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, and Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations (RELAMPAGO) field campaign. RELAMPAGO was a major field campaign conducted in the Córdoba and Mendoza provinces in Argentina and western Rio Grande do Sul State in Brazil in 2018–19 that involved more than 200 scientists and students from the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. This campaign was motivated by the physical processes and societal impacts of deep convection that frequently initiates in this region, often along the complex terrain of the Sierras de Córdoba and Andes, and often grows rapidly upscale into dangerous storms that impact society. Observed storms during the experiment produced copious hail, intense flash flooding, extreme lightning flash rates, and other unusual lightning phenomena, but few tornadoes. The five distinct scientific foci of RELAMPAGO—convection initiation, severe weather, upscale growth, hydrometeorology, and lightning and electrification—are described, as are the deployment strategies to observe physical processes relevant to these foci. The campaign’s international cooperation, forecasting efforts, and mission planning strategies enabled a successful data collection effort. In addition, the legacy of RELAMPAGO in South America, including extensive multinational education, public outreach, and social media data gathering associated with the campaign, is summarized.

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Adam C. Varble, Stephen W. Nesbitt, Paola Salio, Joseph C. Hardin, Nitin Bharadwaj, Paloma Borque, Paul J. DeMott, Zhe Feng, Thomas C. J. Hill, James N. Marquis, Alyssa Matthews, Fan Mei, Rusen Öktem, Vagner Castro, Lexie Goldberger, Alexis Hunzinger, Kevin R. Barry, Sonia M. Kreidenweis, Greg M. McFarquhar, Lynn A. McMurdie, Mikhail Pekour, Heath Powers, David M. Romps, Celeste Saulo, Beat Schmid, Jason M. Tomlinson, Susan C. van den Heever, Alla Zelenyuk, Zhixiao Zhang, and Edward J. Zipser

Abstract

The Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign was designed to improve understanding of orographic cloud life cycles in relation to surrounding atmospheric thermodynamic, flow, and aerosol conditions. The deployment to the Sierras de Córdoba range in north-central Argentina was chosen because of very frequent cumulus congestus, deep convection initiation, and mesoscale convective organization uniquely observable from a fixed site. The C-band Scanning Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Precipitation Radar was deployed for the first time with over 50 ARM Mobile Facility atmospheric state, surface, aerosol, radiation, cloud, and precipitation instruments between October 2018 and April 2019. An intensive observing period (IOP) coincident with the RELAMPAGO field campaign was held between 1 November and 15 December during which 22 flights were performed by the ARM Gulfstream-1 aircraft. A multitude of atmospheric processes and cloud conditions were observed over the 7-month campaign, including numerous orographic cumulus and stratocumulus events; new particle formation and growth producing high aerosol concentrations; drizzle formation in fog and shallow liquid clouds; very low aerosol conditions following wet deposition in heavy rainfall; initiation of ice in congestus clouds across a range of temperatures; extreme deep convection reaching 21-km altitudes; and organization of intense, hail-containing supercells and mesoscale convective systems. These comprehensive datasets include many of the first ever collected in this region and provide new opportunities to study orographic cloud evolution and interactions with meteorological conditions, aerosols, surface conditions, and radiation in mountainous terrain.

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