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Evan S. Bentley, Richard L. Thompson, Barry R. Bowers, Justin G. Gibbs, and Steven E. Nelson

Abstract

Previous work has considered tornado occurrence with respect to radar data, both WSR-88D and mobile research radars, and a few studies have examined techniques to potentially improve tornado warning performance. To date, though, there has been little work focusing on systematic, large-sample evaluation of National Weather Service (NWS) tornado warnings with respect to radar-observable quantities and the near-storm environment. In this work, three full years (2016–18) of NWS tornado warnings across the contiguous United States were examined, in conjunction with supporting data in the few minutes preceding warning issuance, or tornado formation in the case of missed events. The investigation herein examines WSR-88D and Storm Prediction Center (SPC) mesoanalysis data associated with these tornado warnings with comparisons made to the current Warning Decision Training Division (WDTD) guidance. Combining low-level rotational velocity and the significant tornado parameter (STP), as used in prior work, shows promise as a means to estimate tornado warning performance, as well as relative changes in performance as criteria thresholds vary. For example, low-level rotational velocity peaking in excess of 30 kt (15 m s−1), in a near-storm environment, which is not prohibitive for tornadoes (STP > 0), results in an increased probability of detection and reduced false alarms compared to observed NWS tornado warning metrics. Tornado warning false alarms can also be reduced through limiting warnings with weak (<30 kt), broad (>1 n mi; 1 n mi = 1.852 km) circulations in a poor (STP = 0) environment, careful elimination of velocity data artifacts like sidelobe contamination, and through greater scrutiny of human-based tornado reports in otherwise questionable scenarios.

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Robert M. Banta, Yelena L. Pichugina, Lisa S. Darby, W. Alan Brewer, Joseph B. Olson, Jaymes S. Kenyon, S. Baidar, S. G. Benjamin, H. J. S. Fernando, K. O. Lantz, J. K. Lundquist, B. J. McCarty, T. Marke, S. P. Sandberg, J. Sharp, W. J. Shaw, D. D. Turner, J. M. Wilczak, R. Worsnop, and M. T. Stoelinga

Abstract

Complex-terrain locations often have repeatable near-surface wind patterns, such as synoptic gap flows and local thermally forced flows. An example is the Columbia River Valley in east-central Oregon–Washington, a significant wind energy generation region and the site of the Second Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP2). Data from three Doppler lidars deployed during WFIP2 define and characterize summertime wind regimes and their large-scale contexts, and provide insight into NWP model errors by examining differences in the ability of a model [NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR version 1)] to forecast wind speed profiles for different flow regimes. Seven regimes were identified based on daily time series of the lidar-measured rotor-layer winds, which then suggested two broad categories. First, in three of the regimes the primary dynamic forcing was the large-scale pressure gradient. Second, in two other regimes the dominant forcing was the diurnal heating-cooling cycle (regional sea-breeze-type dynamics), including the marine intrusion previously described, which generates strong nocturnal winds over the region. For the large-scale pressure gradient regimes, HRRR had wind speed biases of ~1 m s−1 and RMSEs of 2–3 m s−1. Errors were much larger for the thermally forced regimes, owing to the premature demise of the strong nocturnal flow in HRRR. Thus, the more dominant the role of surface heating in generating the flow, the larger the errors. Major errors could result from surface heating of the atmosphere, boundary layer responses to that heating, and associated terrain interactions. Measurement/modeling research programs should be designed to determine which of these modeled processes produce the largest errors, so those processes can be improved and errors reduced.

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Jason M. English, David D. Turner, Trevor I. Alcott, William R. Moninger, Janice L. Bytheway, Robert Cifelli, and Melinda Marquis

Abstract

Improved forecasts of atmospheric river (AR) events, which provide up to half the annual precipitation in California, may reduce impacts to water supply, lives, and property. We evaluate quantitative precipitation forecasts (QPF) from the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model version 3 (HRRRv3) and version 4 (HRRRv4) for five AR events that occurred in February–March 2019 and compare them to quantitative precipitation estimates (QPE) from Stage IV and Mesonet products. Both HRRR versions forecast spatial patterns of precipitation reasonably well, but are drier than QPE products in the Bay Area and wetter in the Sierra Nevada range. The HRRR dry bias in the Bay Area may be related to biases in the model temperature profile, while integrated water vapor (IWV), wind speed, and wind direction compare reasonably well. In the Sierra Nevada range, QPE and QPF agree well at temperatures above freezing. Below freezing, the discrepancies are due in part to errors in the QPE products, which are known to underestimate frozen precipitation in mountainous terrain. HRRR frozen QPF accuracy is difficult to quantify, but the model does have wind speed and wind direction biases near the Sierra Nevada range. HRRRv4 is overall more accurate than HRRRv3, likely due to data assimilation improvements, and possibly physics improvements. Applying a neighborhood maximum method impacted performance metrics, but did not alter general conclusions, suggesting closest gridbox evaluations may be adequate for these types of events. Improvements to QPF in the Bay Area and QPE/QPF in the Sierra Nevada range would be particularly useful to provide better understanding of AR events.

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Luke J. LeBel, Brian H. Tang, and Ross A. Lazear

Abstract

The complex terrain at the intersection of the Mohawk and Hudson valleys of New York has an impact on the development and evolution of severe convection in the region. Specifically, previous research has concluded that terrain-channeled flow in the Mohawk and Hudson valleys likely contributes to increased low-level wind shear and instability in the valleys during severe weather events such as the historic 31 May 1998 event that produced a strong (F3) tornado in Mechanicville, New York. The goal of this study is to further examine the impact of terrain channeling on severe convection by analyzing a high-resolution WRF Model simulation of the 31 May 1998 event. Results from the simulation suggest that terrain-channeled flow resulted in the localized formation of an enhanced low-level moisture gradient, resembling a dryline, at the intersection of the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. East of this boundary, the environment was characterized by stronger low-level wind shear and greater low-level moisture and instability, increasing tornadogenesis potential. A simulated supercell intensified after crossing the boundary, as the larger instability and streamwise vorticity of the low-level inflow was ingested into the supercell updraft. These results suggest that terrain can have a key role in producing mesoscale inhomogeneities that impact the evolution of severe convection. Recognition of these terrain-induced boundaries may help in anticipating where the risk of severe weather may be locally enhanced.

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Marvin Kähnert, Harald Sodemann, Wim C. de Rooy, and Teresa M. Valkonen

Abstract

Forecasts of marine cold air outbreaks critically rely on the interplay of multiple parameterization schemes to represent subgrid-scale processes, including shallow convection, turbulence, and microphysics. Even though such an interplay has been recognized to contribute to forecast uncertainty, a quantification of this interplay is still missing. Here, we investigate the tendencies of temperature and specific humidity contributed by individual parameterization schemes in the operational weather prediction model AROME-Arctic. From a case study of an extensive marine cold air outbreak over the Nordic seas, we find that the type of planetary boundary layer assigned by the model algorithm modulates the contribution of individual schemes and affects the interactions between different schemes. In addition, we demonstrate the sensitivity of these interactions to an increase or decrease in the strength of the parameterized shallow convection. The individual tendencies from several parameterizations can thereby compensate each other, sometimes resulting in a small residual. In some instances this residual remains nearly unchanged between the sensitivity experiments, even though some individual tendencies differ by up to an order of magnitude. Using the individual tendency output, we can characterize the subgrid-scale as well as grid-scale responses of the model and trace them back to their underlying causes. We thereby highlight the utility of individual tendency output for understanding process-related differences between model runs with varying physical configurations and for the continued development of numerical weather prediction models.

Open access
Jing Zhang, Jie Feng, Hong Li, Yuejian Zhu, Xiefei Zhi, and Feng Zhang

Abstract

Operational and research applications generally use the consensus approach for forecasting the track and intensity of tropical cyclones (TCs) due to the spatial displacement of the TC location and structure in ensemble member forecasts. This approach simply averages the location and intensity information for TCs in individual ensemble members, which is distinct from the traditional pointwise arithmetic mean (AM) method for ensemble forecast fields. The consensus approach, despite having improved skills relative to the AM in predicting the TC intensity, cannot provide forecasts of the TC spatial structure. We introduced a unified TC ensemble mean forecast based on the feature-oriented mean (FM) method to overcome the inconsistency between the AM and consensus forecasts. FM spatially aligns the TC-related features in each ensemble field to their geographical mean positions before the amplitude of their features is averaged. We select 219 TC forecast samples during the summer of 2017 for an overall evaluation of the FM performance. The results show that the TC track consensus forecasts can differ from AM track forecasts by hundreds of kilometers at long lead times. AM also gives a systematic and statistically significant underestimation of the TC intensity compared with the consensus forecast. By contrast, FM has a very similar TC track and intensity forecast skill to the consensus approach. FM can also provide the corresponding ensemble mean forecasts of the TC spatial structure that are significantly more accurate than AM for the low- and upper-level circulation in TCs. The FM method has the potential to serve as a valuable unified ensemble mean approach for the TC prediction.

Open access
Casey E. Davenport

Abstract

Long-lived supercells (containing mesocyclones persisting for at least 4 hours) are relatively rare, but present significant risk for society as a result of their intensity and associated hazards over an extended time period. The persistence of a rotating updraft is tied to near-storm environmental characteristics; however, given the established prevalence of mesoscale environmental heterogeneity near severe convection, it is unknown to what extent those near-storm characteristics vary over the lifetime of a supercell, nor how quickly the storm responds to such changes. This study examines 147 long-lived, isolated supercells, focusing on the evolution of their near-storm environments using model analysis soundings generated each hour throughout the storm’s lifetime. Environmental variability is quantified via a series of common forecasting parameters, with impacts of measured changes related to production of severe weather and overall storm longevity. The diurnal and maturity-relative distributions of forecasting parameters are examined, along with comparisons among subsets of marginally vs. very long-lived supercells, as well as dissipation before vs. after sunset. The diurnal cycle is a dominant trend over the lifetime of all supercells, with attendant impacts to relevant thermodynamic and kinematic parameters, timing of storm initiation and dissipation, as well as severe weather production. Notably, changes in the near-storm environment are connected to supercell longevity and generation of severe weather reports. The long-term goal of the above analyses is to enhance short-term forecasts of supercells by better anticipating storm evolution as a result of environmental variations.

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Michael M. French and Darrel M. Kingfield

Abstract

A sample of 198 supercells are investigated to determine if a radar proxy for the area of the storm midlevel updraft may be a skillful predictor of imminent tornado formation and/or peak tornado intensity. A novel algorithm, a modified version of the Thunderstorm Risk Estimation from Nowcasting Development via Size Sorting (TRENDSS) algorithm is used to estimate the area of the enhanced differential radar reflectivity factor (ZDR) column in Weather Surveillance Radar – 1988 Doppler data; the ZDR column area is used as a proxy for the area of the midlevel updraft. The areas of ZDR columns are compared for 154 tornadic supercells and 44 non-tornadic supercells, including 30+ supercells with tornadoes rated EF1, EF2, and EF3; nine supercells with EF4+ tornadoes also are analyzed. It is found that (i) at the time of their peak 0-1 km azimuthal shear, non-tornadic supercells have consistently small (< 20 km2) ZDR column areas while tornadic cases exhibit much greater variability in areas, and (ii) at the time of tornadogenesis, EF3+ tornadic cases have larger ZDR column areas than tornadic cases rated EF1/2. In addition, all nine violent tornadoes sampled have ZDR column areas > 30 km2 at the time of tornadogenesis. However, only weak positive correlation is found between ZDR column area and both radar-estimated peak tornado intensity and maximum tornado path width. Planned future work focused on mechanisms linking updraft size and tornado formation and intensity is summarized and the use of the modified TRENDSS algorithm, which is immune to ZDR bias and thus ideal for real-time operational use, is emphasized.

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Sebastian S. Harkema, Emily B. Berndt, John R. Mecikalski, and Alana Cordak

Abstract

Using gridded and interpolated Derived Motion Winds from the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), a Lagrangian cloud-feature tracking technique was developed to create, and document trajectories associated with electrified snowfall and changes in cloud characteristics leading up to the initiation of lightning, respectively. This study implemented the thundersnow detection algorithm and defined thundersnow initiation (TSI) as the first group in a flash detected by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper when snow was occurring. Ten ABI channels and four multispectral (e.g., red-green-blue–RGB) composites were analyzed to investigate characteristics that lead up to TSI for 16,644 thundersnow (TSSN) flashes. From the 10.3 μm channel, TSI trajectories were associated with a median decrease of 12.2 K in brightness temperature (TB) one hour prior to TSI. Decreases in the reflectance component of the 3.9 μm channel indicated that TSI trajectories were associated with ice crystal collisions and/or particle settling at cloud top. The Nighttime Microphysics, Day Cloud Phase Distinction, Differential Water Vapor, and Airmass RGBs were examined to evaluate the microphysical and environmental changes prior to TSI. For daytime TSI trajectories, the predominant colors associated with the Day Cloud Phase Distinction RGB transitioned from cyan to yellow/green, physically representing cloud growth and glaciation at cloud top. Gold/orange hues in the Differential Water Vapor RGB indicated that some trajectories were associated with dry upper-level air masses prior to TSI. The analysis of ABI characteristics prior to TSI, and subsequently relating those characteristics to physical processes, inherently increases the fundamental understanding and ability to forecast TSI; thus, providing additional lead-time into changes in surface conditions (i.e., snowfall rates).

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Qian Zhou, Lei Chen, Wansuo Duan, Xu Wang, Ziqing Zu, Xiang Li, Shouwen Zhang, and Yunfei Zhang

Abstract

Using the latest operational version of the ENSO forecast system from the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center (NMEFC) of China, ensemble forecasting experiments are performed for El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events that occurred from 1997 to 2017 by generating initial perturbations of the conditional nonlinear optimal perturbation (CNOP) and Climatically relevant Singular Vector (CSV) structures. It is shown that when the initial perturbation of the leading CSV structure in the ensemble forecast of the CSVs-scheme is replaced by those of the CNOP structure, the resulted ensemble ENSO forecasts of the CNOP+CSVs-scheme tend to possess a larger spread than the forecasts obtained with the CSVs-scheme alone, leading to a better match between the root mean square error and the ensemble spread, a more reasonable Talagrand diagram and an improved Brier skill score (BSS). All these results indicate that the ensemble forecasts generated by the CNOP+CSVs-scheme can improve both the accuracy of ENSO forecasting and the reliability of the ensemble forecasting system. Therefore, ENSO ensemble forecasting should consider the effect of nonlinearity on the ensemble initial perturbations to achieve a much higher skill. It is expected that fully nonlinear ensemble initial perturbations can be sufficiently yielded to produce ensemble forecasts for ENSO, finally improving the ENSO forecast skill to the greatest possible extent. The CNOP will be a useful method to yield fully nonlinear optimal initial perturbations for ensemble forecasting.

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