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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
Rachel L. Miller, Conrad L. Ziegler, and Michael I. Biggerstaff

Abstract

This case study analyzes a nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) that was observed on 25–26 June 2015 in northeastern Kansas during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) project. Over the course of the observational period, a broken line of elevated nocturnal convective cells initiated around 0230 UTC on the cool side of a stationary front and subsequently merged to form a quasi-linear MCS that later developed strong, surface-based outflow and a trailing stratiform region. This study combines radar observations with mobile and fixed mesonet and sounding data taken during PECAN to analyze the kinematics and thermodynamics of the MCS from 0300 to 0630 UTC. This study is unique in that 38 consecutive multi-Doppler wind analyses are examined over the 3.5 h observation period, facilitating a long-duration analysis of the kinematic evolution of the nocturnal MCS. Radar analyses reveal that the initial convective cells and linear MCS are elevated and sustained by an elevated residual layer formed via weak ascent over the stationary front. During upscale growth, individual convective cells develop storm-scale cold pools due to pockets of descending rear-to-front flow that are measured by mobile mesonets. By 0500 UTC, kinematic analysis and mesonet observations show that the MCS has a surface-based cold pool and that convective line updrafts are ingesting parcels from below the stable layer. In this environment, the elevated system has become surface based since the cold pool lifting is sufficient for surface-based parcels to overcome the CIN associated with the frontal stable layer.

Free access
Matthew D. Parker, Brett S. Borchardt, Rachel L. Miller, and Conrad L. Ziegler

Abstract

The 25–26 June 2015 nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) from the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field project produced severe winds within an environment that might customarily be associated with elevated convection. This work incorporates both a full-physics real-world simulation and an idealized single-sounding simulation to explore the MCS’s evolution. Initially, the simulated convective systems were elevated, being maintained by wavelike disturbances and lacking surface cold pools. As the systems matured, surface outflows began to appear, particularly where heavy precipitation was occurring, with air in the surface cold pools originating from up to 4–5 km AGL. Via this progression, the MCSs exhibited a degree of self-organization (i.e., structures that are dependent upon an MCS’s particular history). The cold pools eventually became 1.5–3.5 km deep, by which point passive tracers revealed that the convection was at least partly surface based. Soon after becoming surface based, both simulations produced severe surface winds, the strongest of which were associated with embedded low-level mesovortices and their attendant outflow surges and bowing segments. The origin of the simulated mesovortices was likely the downward tilting of system-generated horizontal vorticity (from baroclinity, but also possibly friction) within the simulated MCSs’ outflow, as has been argued in a number of previous studies. Taken altogether, it appears that severe nocturnal MCSs may often resemble their cold pool-driven, surface-based afternoon counterparts.

Free access
Shushi Zhang, David B. Parsons, and Yuan Wang

Abstract

This study investigates a nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) observed during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign. A series of wavelike features were observed ahead of this MCS with extensive convective initiation (CI) taking place in the wake of one of these disturbances. Simulations with the WRF-ARW Model were utilized to understand the dynamics of these disturbances and their impact on the MCS. In these simulations, an “elevated bore” formed within an inversion layer aloft in response to the layer being lifted by air flowing up and over the cold pool. As the bore propagated ahead of the MCS, the lifting created an environment more conducive to deep convection allowing the MCS to discretely propagate due to CI in the bore’s wake. The Scorer parameter was somewhat favorable for trapping of this wave energy, although aspects of the environment evolved to be consistent with the expectations for an n = 2 mode deep tropospheric gravity wave. A bore within an inversion layer aloft is reminiscent of disturbances predicted by two-layer hydraulic theory, contrasting with recent studies that suggest bores are frequently initiated by the interaction between the flow within stable nocturnal boundary layer and convectively generated cold pools. Idealized simulations that expand upon this two-layer approach with orography and a well-mixed layer below the inversion suggest that elevated bores provide a possible mechanism for daytime squall lines to remove the capping inversion often found over the Great Plains, particularly in synoptically disturbed environments where vertical shear could create a favorable trapping of wave energy.

Free access
Tammy M. Weckwerth, John Hanesiak, James W. Wilson, Stanley B. Trier, Samuel K. Degelia, William A. Gallus Jr., Rita D. Roberts, and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

Nocturnal convection initiation (NCI) is more difficult to anticipate and forecast than daytime convection initiation (CI). A major component of the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign in the U.S. Great Plains was to intensively sample NCI and its near environment. In this article, we summarize NCI types observed during PECAN: 1 June–16 July 2015. These NCI types, classified using PECAN radar composites, are associated with 1) frontal overrunning, 2) the low-level jet (LLJ), 3) a preexisting mesoscale convective system (MCS), 4) a bore or density current, and 5) a nocturnal atmosphere lacking a clearly observed forcing mechanism (pristine). An example and description of each of these different types of PECAN NCI events are presented. The University of Oklahoma real-time 4-km Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model ensemble forecast runs illustrate that the above categories having larger-scale organization (e.g., NCI associated with frontal overrunning and NCI near a preexisting MCS) were better forecasted than pristine. Based on current knowledge and data from PECAN, conceptual models summarizing key environmental features are presented and physical processes underlying the development of each of these different types of NCI events are discussed.

Full access
Jonathan E. Thielen and William A. Gallus Jr.

Abstract

Nocturnal mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are important phenomena because of their contributions to warm-season precipitation and association with severe hazards. Past studies have shown that their morphology remains poorly forecast in current convection-allowing models operating at 3–4-km horizontal grid spacing. A total of 10 MCS cases occurring in weakly forced environments were simulated using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model at 3- and 1-km horizontal grid spacings to investigate the impact of increased resolution on forecasts of convective morphology and its evolution. These simulations were conducted using four microphysics schemes to account for additional sensitivities to the microphysical parameterization. The observed and corresponding simulated systems were manually classified into detailed cellular and linear modes, and the overall morphology depiction and the forecast accuracy of each model configuration were evaluated. In agreement with past studies, WRF was found to underpredict the occurrence of linear modes and overpredict cellular modes at 3-km horizontal grid spacing with all microphysics schemes tested. When grid spacing was reduced to 1 km, the proportion of linear systems increased. However, the increase was insufficient to match observations throughout the evolution of the systems, and the accuracy scores showed no statistically significant improvement. This suggests that the additional linear modes may have occurred in the wrong subtypes, wrong systems, and/or at the wrong times. Accuracy scores were also shown to decrease with forecast length, with the primary decrease in score generally occurring during upscale growth in the early nocturnal period.

Full access
Tammy M. Weckwerth and Ulrike Romatschke

Abstract

The overarching goal of the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field campaign was to improve understanding of the processes contributing to the nocturnal precipitation maximum in the U.S. Great Plains. This study presents the precipitation pattern surrounding PECAN and addresses the origin, timing, duration, and potential causes contributing to that pattern. It is shown that the precipitation occurs most frequently at night, as expected. The maximum in the precipitation pattern occurred in the northeastern portion of the PECAN radar domain. The source of the rainfall was attributed to mountain-initiated precipitation, plains-initiated precipitation, precipitation advecting over the border of the radar domain, and episodes in which different initiation categories merged together. Through the combination of mountain-initiated, border, and merged episodes, 70% of the Great Plains precipitation was caused by episodes that formed outside of the PECAN domain and propagated into the region. The remaining 30% of the precipitation was attributed to plains-initiated storms. The mountain-initiated storms formed primarily in the afternoon and typically dissipated near the mountains. For those that survived, they propagated eastward, grew upscale, and contributed 27% of the precipitation in the plains. The plains-initiated precipitation fell mostly during the afternoon but also contributed to overnight rainfall and those locally triggered systems tended to be relatively smaller and shorter lived. For the top 10% rain-producing events, composite reanalysis fields showed that synoptic-scale features influenced the precipitation pattern and timing: an approaching trough established southwesterly moist flow throughout the region and a nocturnal low-level jet transported moisture to its terminus in the northeast corner of the PECAN domain.

Free access
Samuel K. Degelia, Xuguang Wang, and David J. Stensrud

Abstract

Numerical weather prediction models often fail to correctly forecast convection initiation (CI) at night. To improve our understanding of such events, researchers collected a unique dataset of thermodynamic and kinematic remote sensing profilers as part of the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment. This study evaluates the impacts made to a nocturnal CI forecast on 26 June 2015 by assimilating a network of atmospheric emitted radiance interferometers (AERIs), Doppler lidars, radio wind profilers, high-frequency rawinsondes, and mobile surface observations using an advanced, ensemble-based data assimilation system. Relative to operational forecasts, assimilating the PECAN dataset improves the timing, location, and orientation of the CI event. Specifically, radio wind profilers and rawinsondes are shown to be the most impactful instrument by enhancing the moisture advection into the region of CI in the forecast. Assimilating thermodynamic profiles collected by the AERIs increases midlevel moisture and improves the ensemble probability of CI in the forecast. The impacts of assimilating the radio wind profilers, AERI retrievals, and rawinsondes remain large throughout forecasting the growth of the CI event into a mesoscale convective system. Assimilating Doppler lidar and surface data only slightly improves the CI forecast by enhancing the convergence along an outflow boundary that partially forces the nocturnal CI event. Our findings suggest that a mesoscale network of profiling and surface instruments has the potential to greatly improve short-term forecasts of nocturnal convection.

Full access
Stacey M. Hitchcock, Russ S. Schumacher, Gregory R. Herman, Michael C. Coniglio, Matthew D. Parker, and Conrad L. Ziegler

Abstract

During the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign, 15 mesoscale convective system (MCS) environments were sampled by an array of instruments including radiosondes launched by three mobile sounding teams. Additional soundings were collected by fixed and mobile PECAN integrated sounding array (PISA) groups for a number of cases. Cluster analysis of observed vertical profiles established three primary preconvective categories: 1) those with an elevated maximum in equivalent potential temperature below a layer of potential instability; 2) those that maintain a daytime-like planetary boundary layer (PBL) and nearly potentially neutral low levels, sometimes even well after sunset despite the existence of a southerly low-level wind maximum; and 3) those that are potentially neutral at low levels, but have very weak or no southerly low-level winds. Profiles of equivalent potential temperature in elevated instability cases tend to evolve rapidly in time, while cases in the potentially neutral categories do not. Analysis of composite Rapid Refresh (RAP) environments indicate greater moisture content and moisture advection in an elevated layer in the elevated instability cases than in their potentially neutral counterparts. Postconvective soundings demonstrate significantly more variability, but cold pools were observed in nearly every PECAN MCS case. Following convection, perturbations range between −1.9 and −9.1 K over depths between 150 m and 4.35 km, but stronger, deeper stable layers lead to structures where the largest cold pool temperature perturbation is observed above the surface.

Full access
Kevin R. Haghi, Bart Geerts, Hristo G. Chipilski, Aaron Johnson, Samuel Degelia, David Imy, David B. Parsons, Rebecca D. Adams-Selin, David D. Turner, and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

There has been a recent wave of attention given to atmospheric bores in order to understand how they evolve and initiate and maintain convection during the night. This surge is attributable to data collected during the 2015 Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign. A salient aspect of the PECAN project is its focus on using multiple observational platforms to better understand convective outflow boundaries that intrude into the stable boundary layer and induce the development of atmospheric bores. The intent of this article is threefold: 1) to educate the reader on current and future foci of bore research, 2) to present how PECAN observations will facilitate aforementioned research, and 3) to stimulate multidisciplinary collaborative efforts across other closely related fields in an effort to push the limitations of prediction of nocturnal convection.

Open access