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Calvin M. Elkins
and
Deanna A. Hence

Abstract

Frequent deep convective thunderstorms and mesoscale convective systems make the Córdoba region, near the Sierras de Córdoba mountain range, one of the most active areas on Earth for hail activity. Analysis of hail observations from trained observers and social media reports cross-referenced with operational radar observations identified convective characteristics of hail-producing convective systems in Central Argentina over a six-month period divided into early- (October-December 2018) and late-seasons (January-March 2019). Reflectivity and dual-polarization characteristics from the Córdoba operational radar (RMA1) were used to identify convective modes of convective cells at time of positive hail indicators. Analysis of ERA5 upper-air and surface data examined convective environments of hail events and identified representative dynamic and thermodynamic environments.

A majority of early-season hail-producing cells were classified as discrete convection, while discrete and multicell occurrence evened out in the late-season. Most hail-producing cells initiated directly adjacent to the Sierras in the late-season, while cell initiation and hail production is further spread out in the early-season. Dividing convective events into dynamic/thermodynamic regimes based on values of 1000 J kg−1 of CAPE and vertical wind shear of 20 m s−1 results in most early-season events reflecting shear-dominant characteristics (low-CAPE, high shear) and most late-season events exhibiting CAPE-dominant characteristics (high-CAPE, low shear). Strength and placement of low-level temperature and moisture anomalies/advection and upper-level jets largely defined the differences in the dominant regimes.

Open access
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
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.

Full 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
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.

Full access
Peter G. Veals
,
Adam C. Varble
,
James O. H. Russell
,
Joseph C. Hardin
, and
Edward J. Zipser

Abstract

An aerosol indirect effect on deep convective cores (DCCs), by which increasing aerosol concentration increases cloud-top height via enhanced latent heating and updraft velocity, has been proposed in many studies. However, the magnitude of this effect remains uncertain due to aerosol measurement limitations, modulation of the effect by meteorological conditions, and difficulties untangling meteorological and aerosol effects on DCCs. The Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) campaign in 2018–19 produced concentrated aerosol and cloud observations in a location with frequent DCCs, providing an opportunity to examine the proposed aerosol indirect effect on DCC depth in a rigorous and robust manner. For periods throughout the campaign with well-mixed boundary layers, we analyze relationships that exist between aerosol variables (condensation nuclei concentration > 10 nm, 0.4% cloud condensation nuclei concentration, 55–1000-nm aerosol concentration, and aerosol optical depth) and meteorological variables [level of neutral buoyancy (LNB), convective available potential energy, midlevel relative humidity, and deep-layer vertical wind shear] with the maximum radar-echo-top height and cloud-top temperature (CTT) of DCCs. Meteorological variables such as LNB and deep-layer shear are strongly correlated with DCC depth. LNB is also highly correlated with three of the aerosol variables. After accounting for meteorological correlations, increasing values of the aerosol variables [with the exception of one formulation of aerosol optical depth (AOD)] are generally correlated at a statistically significant level with a warmer CTT of DCCs. Therefore, for the study region and period considered, increasing aerosol concentration is mostly associated with a decrease in DCC depth.

Full access
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.

Full access