Abstract

Hundreds of supercell proximity soundings obtained for field programs over the central U.S. are analyzed to reconcile differences in recent studies and to refine our knowledge of supercell environments. The large, storm-centric observation-based dataset and high vertical resolution of the sounding data provide an unprecedented look at supercell environments. Not surprisingly, storm-relative environmental helicity (SRH) is found to be larger in tornadic soundings than in nontornadic soundings. The primary finding that departs from previous studies is that storm-relative winds contribute substantially to the larger SRH. Stronger ground-relative winds and more rightward-deviant storm motions contribute to the larger storm-relative winds for the tornadic soundings. Spatial analyses of the soundings reveal lower near-ground pressure perturbations and stronger low- to mid-level cyclonic flow for the tornadic soundings, which suggests stronger mesocyclones, perhaps explaining the more rightward deviant motions. Differences in the mean critical angle between the tornadic and nontornadic soundings are small and do not contribute to the larger mean SRH, but the tornadic soundings do have fewer instances of smaller (<60°) critical angles. Furthermore, the critical angle is shown to be a function of azimuth from the updraft. Other results include a low-to-the-ground (~250 m on average) hodograph kink for both the tornadic and nontornadic soundings and few notable differences in thermodynamic quantities, except for the expected lower LCLs related to higher RH for the tornadic soundings, somewhat smaller 0–3-km lapse rates in tornadic environments related to weaker/shallower capping inversions, and larger 0–3-km CAPE in near-field environments.

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