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Michael M. French, Donald W. Burgess, Edward R. Mansell, and Louis J. Wicker

Abstract

Polarimetric radar observations obtained by the NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory mobile, X-band, dual-polarization radar (NOXP) are used to investigate “hook echo” precipitation properties in several tornadic and nontornadic supercells. Hook echo drop size distributions (DSDs) were estimated using NOXP data obtained from 2009 to 2012, including during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2). Differences between tornadic and nontornadic hook echo DSDs are explored, and comparisons are made with previous observations of estimated hook echo DSDs made from stationary S- and C-band Doppler radars. Tornadic hook echoes consistently contain radar gates that are characterized by small raindrops; nontornadic hook echoes are mixed between those that have some small-drop gates and those that have almost no small-drop gates. In addition, the spatial distribution of DSDs was estimated using the high-spatial-resolution data afforded by NOXP. A unique polarimetric signature, an area of relatively low values of differential radar reflectivity factor Z DR south and east of the tornado, is observed in many of the tornadic cases. Also, because most data were obtained using 2-min volumetric updates, the evolution of approximated hook echo precipitation properties was studied during parts of the life cycles of three tornadoes. In one case, there is a large decrease in the percentage of large-raindrop gates and an increase in the percentage of small-raindrop gates in the minutes leading up to tornado formation. The percentage of large-drop gates generally increases prior to and during tornado dissipation. Near-storm environmental data are used to put forth possible relationships between bulk hook echo DSDs and tornado production and life cycle.

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Michael M. French, Patrick S. Skinner, Louis J. Wicker, and Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

Unique observations of the interaction and likely merger of two cyclonic tornadoes are documented. One of the tornadoes involved in the interaction was the enhanced Fujita scale (EF5) El Reno–Piedmont, Oklahoma, tornado from 24 May 2011 and the other was a previously undocumented tornado. Data from three S-band radars: Twin Lakes, Oklahoma (KTLX); Norman, Oklahoma (KOUN); and the multifunction phased-array radar (MPAR), are used to detail the formation of the second tornado, which occurred to the northwest of the original tornado in an area of strong radial convergence. Radar data and isosurfaces of azimuthal shear provide evidence that both tornadoes formed within an elongated area of mesocyclone-scale cyclonic rotation. The path taken by the primary tornado and the formation location of the second tornado are different from previous observations of simultaneous cyclonic tornadoes, which have been most often observed in the cyclic tornadogenesis process. The merger of the two tornadoes occurred during the sampling period of a mobile phased-array radar—the Mobile Weather Radar, 2005 X-Band, Phased Array (MWR-05XP). MWR-05XP electronic scanning in elevation allowed for the merger process to be examined up to 4 km above radar level every 11 s. The tornadic vortex signatures (TVSs) associated with the tornadoes traveled around each other in a counterclockwise direction then merged in a helical manner up through storm midlevels. Upon merging, both the estimated intensity and size of the TVS associated with the resulting tornado increased dramatically. Similarities between the merger observed in this case and in previous cases also are discussed.

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Timothy A. Supinie, Youngsun Jung, Ming Xue, David J. Stensrud, Michael M. French, and Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

Several data assimilation and forecast experiments are undertaken to determine the impact of special observations taken during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) on forecasts of the 5 June 2009 Goshen County, Wyoming, supercell. The data used in these experiments are those from the Mobile Weather Radar, 2005 X-band, Phased Array (MWR-05XP); two mobile mesonets (MM); and several mobile sounding units. Data sources are divided into “routine,” including those from operational Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Dopplers (WSR-88Ds) and the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) network, and “special” observations from the VORTEX2 project.

VORTEX2 data sources are denied individually from a total of six ensemble square root filter (EnSRF) data assimilation and forecasting experiments. The EnSRF data assimilation uses 40 ensemble members on a 1-km grid nested inside a 3-km grid. Each experiment assimilates data every 5 min for 1 h, followed by a 1-h forecast. All experiments are able to reproduce the basic evolution of the supercell, though the impact of the VORTEX2 observations was mixed. The VORTEX2 sounding data decreased the mesocyclone intensity in the latter stages of the forecast, consistent with observations. The MWR-05XP data increased the forecast vorticity above approximately 1 km AGL in all experiments and had little impact on forecast vorticity below 1 km AGL. The MM data had negative impacts on the intensity of the low-level mesocyclone, by decreasing the vertical vorticity and indirectly by decreasing the buoyancy of the inflow.

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Michael M. French, Howard B. Bluestein, Ivan PopStefanija, Chad A. Baldi, and Robert T. Bluth

Abstract

A mobile, phased-array Doppler radar, the Mobile Weather Radar, 2005 X-band, Phased Array (MWR-05XP), has been used since 2007 to obtain data in supercells and tornadoes. Rapidly updating, volumetric data of tornadic vortex signatures (TVSs) associated with four tornadoes are used to investigate the time–height evolution of TVS intensity, position, and dissipation up through storm midlevels. Both TVS intensity and position were highly variable in time and height even during tornado mature phases. In one case, a TVS associated with a tornado dissipated aloft and a second TVS formed shortly thereafter while there was one continuous TVS near the ground. In a second case, the TVS associated with a long-lived, violent tornado merged with a second TVS (likely a second cyclonic tornado) causing the original TVS to strengthen. TVS dissipation occurred first at a height of ~1.5 km AGL and then at progressively higher levels in two cases; TVS dissipation occurred last in the lowest 1 km in three cases examined. Possible explanations are provided for the unsteady nature of TVS intensity and a conceptual model is presented for the initial dissipation of TVSs at ~1.5 km AGL.

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Patrick S. Skinner, Christopher C. Weiss, Michael M. French, Howard B. Bluestein, Paul M. Markowski, and Yvette P. Richardson

Abstract

Observations collected in the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment during a 15-min period of a supercell occurring on 18 May 2010 near Dumas, Texas, are presented. The primary data collection platforms include two Ka-band mobile Doppler radars, which collected a near-surface, short-baseline dual-Doppler dataset within the rear-flank outflow of the Dumas supercell; an X-band, phased-array mobile Doppler radar, which collected volumetric single-Doppler data with high temporal resolution; and in situ thermodynamic and wind observations of a six-probe mobile mesonet.

Rapid evolution of the Dumas supercell was observed, including the development and decay of a low-level mesocyclone and four internal rear-flank downdraft (RFD) momentum surges. Intensification and upward growth of the low-level mesocyclone were observed during periods when the midlevel mesocyclone was minimally displaced from the low-level circulation, suggesting an upward-directed perturbation pressure gradient force aided in the intensification of low-level rotation. The final three internal RFD momentum surges evolved in a manner consistent with the expected behavior of a dynamically forced occlusion downdraft, developing at the periphery of the low-level mesocyclone during periods when values of low-level cyclonic azimuthal wind shear exceeded values higher aloft. Failure of the low-level mesocyclone to acquire significant vertical depth suggests that dynamic forcing above internal RFD momentum surge gust fronts was insufficient to lift the negatively buoyant air parcels comprising the RFD surges to significant heights. As a result, vertical acceleration and the stretching of vertical vorticity in surge parcels were limited, which likely contributed to tornadogenesis failure.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Christopher C. Weiss, Michael M. French, Eric M. Holthaus, Robin L. Tanamachi, Stephen Frasier, and Andrew L. Pazmany

Abstract

The University of Massachusetts W- and X-band, mobile, Doppler radars scanned several tornadoes at close range in south-central Kansas on 12 May 2004. The detailed vertical structure of the Doppler wind and radar reflectivity fields of one of the tornadoes is described with the aid of boresighted video. The inside wall of a weak-echo hole inside the tornado was terminated at the bottom as a bowl-shaped boundary within several tens of meters of the ground. Doppler signatures of horizontal vortices were noted along one edge in the lowest 500 m of the tornado. The vertical structure of Doppler velocity displayed significant variations on the 100-m scale. Near the center of the tornado, a quasi-horizontal, radial bulge of the weak-echo hole at ∼500–600 m AGL dropped to about 400 m above the ground and was evident as a weak-echo band to the south of the tornado. It is suggested that this feature represents echo-weak material transported radially outward by a vertical circulation. Significant vertical variations of Doppler velocity were found in the surface friction layer both inside and outside the tornado core. The shape of a weak-echo notch that was associated with a hook echo wrapped around the tornado is described. Highest Doppler velocities were located outside the condensation funnel. The structure of the other tornadoes is also described, but with much less detail. Some of the analyses are compared with numerical simulations of tornado-like vortices done elsewhere.

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Jana B. Houser, Nathaniel McGinnis, Kelly M. Butler, Howard B. Bluestein, Jeffrey C. Snyder, and Michael M. French

Abstract

This study presents an investigation into relationships among topographic elevation, surface land cover, and tornado intensity using rapid scan, mobile Doppler radar observations of four tornadoes from the U.S. Central Plains. High spatiotemporal resolution observations of tornadic vortex signatures from the radar’s lowest elevation angle data (in most cases ranging from ~100 to 350 m above ground level) are coupled with digital elevation model (DEM) and 2011 National Land Cover Database (NLCD) data using a geographic information system (GIS). The relationships between 1) tornado intensity and topographic elevation or surface roughness and 2) changes in tornado intensity and changes in topographic elevation or surface roughness are investigated qualitatively, and statistical relationships are quantified and analyzed using a bootstrap permutation method for individual case studies and all cases collectively. Results suggest that there are statistically significant relationships for individual cases, but the relationships defy generalization and are different on a case-by-case basis, which may imply that they are coincidental, indicating a null correlation.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Michael M. French, Robin L. Tanamachi, Stephen Frasier, Kery Hardwick, Francesc Junyent, and Andrew L. Pazmany

Abstract

A mobile, dual-polarization, X-band, Doppler radar scanned tornadoes at close range in supercells on 12 and 29 May 2004 in Kansas and Oklahoma, respectively. In the former tornadoes, a visible circular debris ring detected as circular regions of low values of differential reflectivity and the cross-correlation coefficient was distinguished from surrounding spiral bands of precipitation of higher values of differential reflectivity and the cross-correlation coefficient. A curved band of debris was indicated on one side of the tornado in another. In a tornado and/or mesocyclone on 29 May 2004, which was hidden from the view of the storm-intercept team by precipitation, the vortex and its associated “weak-echo hole” were at times relatively wide; however, a debris ring was not evident in either the differential reflectivity field or in the cross-correlation coefficient field, most likely because the radar beam scanned too high above the ground. In this case, differential attenuation made identification of debris using differential reflectivity difficult and it was necessary to use the cross-correlation coefficient to determine that there was no debris cloud. The latter tornado’s parent storm was a high-precipitation (HP) supercell, which also spawned an anticyclonic tornado approximately 10 km away from the cyclonic tornado, along the rear-flank gust front. No debris cloud was detected in this tornado either, also because the radar beam was probably too high.

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Michael M. French, Howard B. Bluestein, David C. Dowell, Louis J. Wicker, Matthew R. Kramar, and Andrew L. Pazmany

Abstract

On 15 May 2003, two ground-based, mobile, Doppler radars scanned a supercell that moved through the Texas Panhandle and cyclically produced mesocyclones. The two radars collected data from the storm during a rapid cyclic mesocyclogenesis stage and a more slowly evolving tornadic period. A 3-cm-wavelength radar scanned the supercell continuously for a short time after it was cyclic but close to the time of tornadogenesis. A 5-cm-wavelength radar scanned the supercell the entire time it exhibited cyclic behavior and for an additional 30 min after that. The volumetric data obtained with the 5-cm-wavelength radar allowed for the individual circulations to be analyzed at multiple levels in the supercell. Most of the circulations that eventually dissipated moved rearward with respect to storm motion and were located at distances progressively farther away from the region of rear-flank outflow. The circulations associated with a tornado did not move nearly as far rearward relative to the storm. The mean circulation diameters were approximately 1–4 km and had lifetimes of 10–30 min. Circulation dissipation often, but not always, occurred following decreases in circulation diameter, while changes in maximum radial wind shear were not reliable indicators of circulation dissipation. In one instance, a pair of circulations rotated cyclonically around, and moved toward, each other; the two circulations then combined to form one circulation. Single-Doppler radial velocities from both radars were used to assess the differences between the pretornadic circulations and the tornadic circulations. Storm outflow in the rear flank of the storm increased notably during the time cyclic mesocyclogenesis slowed and tornado formation commenced. Large storm-relative inflow likely advected the pretornadic circulations rearward in the absence of organized outflow. The development of strong outflow in the rear flank probably balanced the strong inflow, allowing the tornadic circulations to stay in areas rich in vertical vorticity generation.

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Katherine E. McKeown, Michael M. French, Kristofer S. Tuftedal, Darrel M. Kingfield, Howard B. Bluestein, Dylan W. Reif, and Zachary B. Wienhoff

Abstract

Rapid-scan polarimetric data analysis of the dissipation of a likely violent supercell tornado that struck near Sulphur, Oklahoma, on 9 May 2016 is presented. The Rapid X-band Polarimetric Radar was used to obtain data of the tornado at the end of its mature phase and during its entire dissipation phase. The analysis is presented in two parts: dissipation characteristics of the tornadic vortex signature (TVS) associated with the tornado and storm-scale polarimetric features that may be related to processes contributing to tornado dissipation. The TVS exhibited near-surface radial velocities exceeding 100 m s−1 multiple times at the end of its mature phase, and then underwent a two-phased dissipation. Initially, decreases in near-surface intensity occurred rapidly over a ~5-min period followed by a slower decline in intensity that lasted an additional ~12 min. The dissipation of the TVS in time and height in the lowest 2 km above radar level and oscillatory storm-relative motion of the TVS also are discussed. Using polarimetric data, a well-defined low reflectivity ribbon is investigated for its vertical development, evolution, and relationship to the large tornadic debris signature (TDS) collocated with the TVS. The progression of the TDS during dissipation also is discussed with a focus on the presence of several bands of reduced copolar correlation coefficient that extend away from the main TDS and the eventual erosion of the TDS as the tornado dissipated. Finally, TVS and polarimetric data are combined to argue for the importance of a possible internal rear-flank downdraft momentum surge in contributing to the initial rapid dissipation of the tornado.

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