Abstract

Previous studies have revealed that convective storms often contain intense small-scale downdrafts, termed “downbursts,” that are a significant hazard to aviation. These downbursts sometimes possess strong rotation about their vertical axis in the lower and middle levels of the storm, but studies of how this rotation is produced and how it impacts downdraft strength are lacking. In this study a three-dimensional cloud model was used to simulate a rotating downburst based on conditions observed on a day that produced rotating downbursts. It was found that rotating downbursts may occur when the direction of the wind shear vector in the middle levels of the troposphere varies with height. In the early stages of the convective system, vertical vorticity is generated from tilting of the ambient vertical shear by the updraft, resulting in a vertical vorticity couplet on the flanks of the updraft. Later, the negative buoyancy associated with precipitation loading causes the updraft to collapse and to be eventually replaced by a downdraft downshear of the midlevel updraft. When the direction of the vertical shear vector varies with height, a correlation may develop between the location of the vertical vorticity previously produced by the updraft at midlevels and the location of the developing downdraft. This mechanism causes downbursts to rotate cyclonically when the vertical shear vector veers with height and to rotate anticyclonically when the vertical shear vector backs with height. The rotation associated with the downburst, however, does not significantly enhance the peak downdraft magnitude. The mechanism for the generation of vorticity in a downburst is different from that found for supercell downdrafts, and, for a given vertical shear vector, downbursts and supercell downdrafts will rotate in the opposite sense.

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