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Clayton R. S. Sasaki
,
Angela K. Rowe
,
Lynn A. McMurdie
,
Adam C. Varble
, and
Zhixiao Zhang

Abstract

This study documents the spatial and temporal distribution of the South American low-level jet (SALLJ) and quantifies its impact on the convective environment using a 6.5-month convection-permitting simulation during the Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, And Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations and Clouds, Aerosols, and Complex Terrain Interactions (RELAMPAGO-CACTI) campaigns. Overall, the simulation reproduces the observed SALLJ characteristics in central Argentina near the Sierras de Córdoba (SDC), a focal point for terrain-focused upscale growth. SALLJs most frequently occur in the summer with maxima to the northwest and east of the SDC and minima over the higher terrain. The shallower SALLJs (<1750 m) have a strong overnight skew, while the elevated jets are more equally spread throughout the day. SALLJ periods often have higher amounts of low-level moisture and instability compared to non-SALLJ periods, with these impacts increasing over time when the SALLJ is present and decreasing afterward. The SALLJ may enhance low-level wind shear magnitudes (particularly when accounting for the jet height); however, enhancement is somewhat limited due to the presence of speed shear in most situations. SALLJ periods are associated with low-level directional shear favorable for organized convection and an orientation of cloud-layer wind shear parallel to the terrain, which could favor upscale growth. A case study is shown in which the SALLJ influenced both the magnitude and direction of wind shear concurrent with convective upscale growth near the SDC. This study highlights the complex relationship between the SALLJ and its impacts during periods of widespread convection.

Significance Statement

Areas of enhanced low-level winds, or low-level jets, likely promote favorable conditions for upscale growth, the processes by which storms grow larger. Central Argentina is an ideal place to study the influence of low-level jets on upscale growth as storms often stay connected to the Sierras de Córdoba Mountain range, growing over a relatively small area. This study uses model data to describe the distribution and impact of the South American low-level jet on the storm environment. The South American low-level jet is frequently found near the Sierras de Córdoba, and moisture and convective instability increase when it is present. However, the jet’s impact on other conditions important for upscale growth, such as vertical wind shear, is not as straightforward.

Open access
James N. Marquis
,
Zhe Feng
,
Adam Varble
,
T. Connor Nelson
,
Adam Houston
,
John M. Peters
,
Jake P. Mulholland
, and
Joseph Hardin

Abstract

A lack of routine environmental observations located near deepening cumulus congestus clouds limits verification of important theorized and simulated updraft–environment interaction processes occurring during deep convection initiation (CI). We analyze radiosonde profiles collected during several hundred CI events near a mountain range in central Argentina during the CACTI field campaign. Statistical analyses illustrate environmental conditions supporting radar-observed CI outcomes that span a spectrum of convective cell depths, widths, and durations, as well as events lacking precipitating convection. Tested environmental factors include a large variety of sounding-derived measurements of CAPE, CIN, moisture, terrain-relative winds, vertical shear, and lifted parcel properties, with supplemental model reanalysis of background larger-scale vertical motion. CAPE and CIN metrics do not consistently differentiate CI success from failure. Only a few environmental factors contain consistent monotonic relationships among the spectrum of cloud depths achieved during CI: (i) the depth and strength of background ascent, and (ii) the component of low-level flow oriented parallel to the ridgeline. These metrics suggest that the ability of the surrounding flow to lift parcels to their LFC and terrain-modified flow are consistently relevant processes for CI. Low- to midlevel relative humidity strongly discriminated between CI and non-CI events, likely reflecting entrainment-driven dilution processes. However, we could not confidently conclude that relative humidity similarly discriminated robust from marginal CI events. Circumstantial evidence was found linking cell width, an important cloud property governing the probability of CI, to LCL height, boundary layer depth, depth and magnitude of the CIN layer, and ambient wind shear.

Open access
Marquette N. Rocque
and
Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

Intense deep convection and large mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are known to occur downstream of the Andes in subtropical South America. Deep convection is often focused along the Sierras de Córdoba (SDC) in the afternoon and then rapidly grows upscale and moves to the east overnight. However, how the Andes and SDC impact the life cycle of MCSs under varying synoptic conditions is not well understood. Two sets of terrain-modification experiments using WRF are used to investigate the impact of topography in different synoptic regimes. The first set is run on the 13–14 December 2018 MCS case from RELAMPAGO, which featured a deep synoptic trough, strong lee cyclogenesis near the SDC, an enhanced low-level jet, and rapid upscale growth of an MCS. When the Andes are reduced by 50%, the lee cyclone and low-level jet that develop are weaker than with the full Andes, and the resulting MCS is weak and moves faster to the east. When the SDC are removed, few differences between the environment and resulting MCS relative to the control run are seen. A second set of experiments are run on the 25–26 January 2019 case in which a large MCS developed over the SDC and remained tied there for an extended period under weak synoptic forcing. The experiment that produces the most similar MCS to the control is when the Andes are reduced by 50% while maintaining the height of the SDC, suggesting the SDC may play a more important role in the MCS life cycle under quiescent synoptic conditions.

Free access
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.

Full access
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
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.

Full access
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
Jeremiah O. Piersante
,
Kristen L. Rasmussen
,
Russ S. Schumacher
,
Angela K. Rowe
, and
Lynn A. McMurdie

Abstract

Subtropical South America (SSA) east of the Andes Mountains is a global hotspot for mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). Wide convective cores (WCCs) are typically embedded within mature MCSs, contribute over 40% of SSA’s warm-season rainfall, and are often associated with severe weather. Prior analysis of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Precipitation Radar (PR) data identified WCCs in SSA and associated synoptic conditions during austral summer. As WCCs also occur during the austral spring, this study uses the 16-yr TRMM PR and ERA5 datasets to compare anomalies in environmental conditions between austral spring (SON) and summer (DJF) for the largest and smallest WCCs in SSA. During both seasons, large WCCs are associated with an anomalous midlevel trough that slowly crosses the Andes Mountains and a northerly South American low-level jet (SALLJ) over SSA, though the SON trough and SALLJ anomalies are stronger and located farther northeastward than in DJF. A synoptic pattern evolution resembling large WCC environments is illustrated through a multiday case during the RELAMPAGO field campaign (10–13 November 2018). Unique high-temporal-resolution soundings showed strong midlevel vertical wind shear associated with this event, induced by the juxtaposition of the northerly SALLJ and southerly near-surface flow. It is hypothesized that the Andes help create a quasi-stationary trough–ridge pattern such that favorable synoptic conditions for deep convection persist for multiple days. For the smallest WCCs, anomalously weaker synoptic-scale forcing was present compared to the largest events, especially for DJF, pointing to future work exploring MCS formation under weaker synoptic conditions.

Full access
Russ S. Schumacher
,
Deanna A. Hence
,
Stephen W. Nesbitt
,
Robert J. Trapp
,
Karen A. Kosiba
,
Joshua Wurman
,
Paola Salio
,
Martin Rugna
,
Adam C. Varble
, and
Nathan R. Kelly

Abstract

During the Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, and Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations-Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (RELAMPAGO-CACTI) field experiments in 2018–19, an unprecedented number of balloon-borne soundings were collected in Argentina. Radiosondes were launched from both fixed and mobile platforms, yielding 2712 soundings during the period 15 October 2018–30 April 2019. Approximately 20% of these soundings were collected by highly mobile platforms, strategically positioned for each intensive observing period, and launching approximately once per hour. The combination of fixed and mobile soundings capture both the overall conditions characterizing the RELAMPAGO-CACTI campaign, as well as the detailed evolution of environments supporting the initiation and upscale growth of deep convective storms, including some that produced hazardous hail and heavy rainfall. Episodes of frequent convection were characterized by sufficient quantities of moisture and instability for deep convection, along with deep-layer vertical wind shear supportive of organized or rotating storms. A total of 11 soundings showed most unstable convective available potential energy (MUCAPE) exceeding 6000 J kg−1, comparable to the extreme instability observed in other parts of the world with intense deep convection. Parameters used to diagnose severe-storm potential showed that conditions were often favorable for supercells and severe hail, but not for tornadoes, primarily because of insufficient low-level wind shear. High-frequency soundings also revealed the structure and evolution of the boundary layer leading up to convection initiation, convectively generated cold pools, the South American low-level jet (SALLJ), and elevated nocturnal convection. This sounding dataset will enable improved understanding and prediction of convective storms and their surroundings in subtropical South America, as well as comparisons with other heavily studied regions such as the central United States that have not previously been possible.

Full access
T. Connor Nelson
,
James Marquis
,
Adam Varble
, and
Katja Friedrich

Abstract

The Remote Sensing of Electrification, Lightning, and Mesoscale/Microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations (RELAMPAGO) and Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) projects deployed a high-spatiotemporal-resolution radiosonde network to examine environments supporting deep convection in the complex terrain of central Argentina. This study aims to characterize atmospheric profiles most representative of the near-cloud environment (in time and space) to identify the mesoscale ingredients affecting storm initiation and growth. Spatiotemporal autocorrelation analysis of the soundings reveals that there is considerable environmental heterogeneity, with boundary layer thermodynamic and kinematic fields becoming statistically uncorrelated on scales of 1–2 h and 30 km. Using this as guidance, we examine a variety of environmental parameters derived from soundings collected within close proximity (30 km in space and 30 min in time) of 44 events over 9 days where the atmosphere either: 1) supported the initiation of sustained precipitating convection, 2) yielded weak and short-lived precipitating convection, or 3) produced no precipitating convection in disagreement with numerical forecasts from convection-allowing models (i.e., Null events). There are large statistical differences between the Null event environments and those supporting any convective precipitation. Null event profiles contained larger convective available potential energy, but had low free-tropospheric relative humidity, higher freezing levels, and evidence of limited horizontal convergence near the terrain at low levels that likely suppressed deep convective growth. We also present evidence from the radiosonde and satellite measurements that flow–terrain interactions may yield gravity wave activity that affects CI outcome.

Full access