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David J. Stensrud, Michael C. Coniglio, Robert P. Davies-Jones, and Jeffry S. Evans
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Michael C. Coniglio, James Correia Jr., Patrick T. Marsh, and Fanyou Kong

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This study evaluates forecasts of thermodynamic variables from five convection-allowing configurations of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) with the Advanced Research core (WRF-ARW). The forecasts vary only in their planetary boundary layer (PBL) scheme, including three “local” schemes [Mellor–Yamada–Janjić (MYJ), quasi-normal scale elimination (QNSE), and Mellor–Yamada–Nakanishi–Niino (MYNN)] and two schemes that include “nonlocal” mixing [the asymmetric cloud model version 2 (ACM2) and the Yonei University (YSU) scheme]. The forecasts are compared to springtime radiosonde observations upstream from deep convection to gain a better understanding of the thermodynamic characteristics of these PBL schemes in this regime. The morning PBLs are all too cool and dry despite having little bias in PBL depth (except for YSU). In the evening, the local schemes produce shallower PBLs that are often too shallow and too moist compared to nonlocal schemes. However, MYNN is nearly unbiased in PBL depth, moisture, and potential temperature, which is comparable to the background North American Mesoscale model (NAM) forecasts. This result gives confidence in the use of the MYNN scheme in convection-allowing configurations of WRF-ARW to alleviate the typical cool, moist bias of the MYJ scheme in convective boundary layers upstream from convection. The morning cool and dry biases lead to an underprediction of mixed-layer CAPE (MLCAPE) and an overprediction of mixed-layer convective inhibition (MLCIN) at that time in all schemes. MLCAPE and MLCIN forecasts improve in the evening, with MYJ, QNSE, and MYNN having small mean errors, but ACM2 and YSU having a somewhat low bias. Strong observed capping inversions tend to be associated with an underprediction of MLCIN in the evening, as the model profiles are too smooth. MLCAPE tends to be overpredicted (underpredicted) by MYJ and QNSE (MYNN, ACM2, and YSU) when the observed MLCAPE is relatively small (large).

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Michael C. Coniglio, Harold E. Brooks, Steven J. Weiss, and Stephen F. Corfidi

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The problem of forecasting the maintenance of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) is investigated through an examination of observed proximity soundings. Furthermore, environmental variables that are statistically different between mature and weakening MCSs are input into a logistic regression procedure to develop probabilistic guidance on MCS maintenance, focusing on warm-season quasi-linear systems that persist for several hours. Between the mature and weakening MCSs, shear vector magnitudes over very deep layers are the best discriminators among hundreds of kinematic and thermodynamic variables. An analysis of the shear profiles reveals that the shear component perpendicular to MCS motion (usually parallel to the leading line) accounts for much of this difference in low levels and the shear component parallel to MCS motion accounts for much of this difference in mid- to upper levels. The lapse rates over a significant portion of the convective cloud layer, the convective available potential energy, and the deep-layer mean wind speed are also very good discriminators and collectively provide a high level of discrimination between the mature and dissipation soundings as revealed by linear discriminant analysis. Probabilistic equations developed from these variables used with short-term numerical model output show utility in forecasting the transition of an MCS with a solid line of 50+ dBZ echoes to a more disorganized system with unsteady changes in structure and propagation. This study shows that empirical forecast tools based on environmental relationships still have the potential to provide forecasters with improved information on the qualitative characteristics of MCS structure and longevity. This is especially important since the current and near-term value added by explicit numerical forecasts of convection is still uncertain.

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Adam J. Clark, Michael C. Coniglio, Brice E. Coffer, Greg Thompson, Ming Xue, and Fanyou Kong

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Recent NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiments have emphasized the sensitivity of forecast sensible weather fields to how boundary layer processes are represented in the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. Thus, since 2010, the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms has configured at least three members of their WRF-based Storm-Scale Ensemble Forecast (SSEF) system specifically for examination of sensitivities to parameterizations of turbulent mixing, including the Mellor–Yamada–Janjić (MYJ); quasi-normal scale elimination (QNSE); Asymmetrical Convective Model, version 2 (ACM2); Yonsei University (YSU); and Mellor–Yamada–Nakanishi–Niino (MYNN) schemes (hereafter PBL members). In postexperiment analyses, significant differences in forecast boundary layer structure and evolution have been observed, and for preconvective environments MYNN was found to have a superior depiction of temperature and moisture profiles. This study evaluates the 24-h forecast dryline positions in the SSEF system PBL members during the period April–June 2010–12 and documents sensitivities of the vertical distribution of thermodynamic and kinematic variables in near-dryline environments. Main results include the following. Despite having superior temperature and moisture profiles, as indicated by a previous study, MYNN was one of the worst-performing PBL members, exhibiting large eastward errors in forecast dryline position. During April–June 2010–11, a dry bias in the North American Mesoscale Forecast System (NAM) initial conditions largely contributed to eastward dryline errors in all PBL members. An upgrade to the NAM and assimilation system in October 2011 apparently fixed the dry bias, reducing eastward errors. Large sensitivities of CAPE and low-level shear to the PBL schemes were found, which were largest between 1.0° and 3.0° to the east of drylines. Finally, modifications to YSU to decrease vertical mixing and mitigate its warm and dry bias greatly reduced eastward dryline errors.

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Ariel E. Cohen, Steven M. Cavallo, Michael C. Coniglio, and Harold E. Brooks

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The representation of turbulent mixing within the lower troposphere is needed to accurately portray the vertical thermodynamic and kinematic profiles of the atmosphere in mesoscale model forecasts. For mesoscale models, turbulence is mostly a subgrid-scale process, but its presence in the planetary boundary layer (PBL) can directly modulate a simulation’s depiction of mass fields relevant for forecast problems. The primary goal of this work is to review the various parameterization schemes that the Weather Research and Forecasting Model employs in its depiction of turbulent mixing (PBL schemes) in general, and is followed by an application to a severe weather environment. Each scheme represents mixing on a local and/or nonlocal basis. Local schemes only consider immediately adjacent vertical levels in the model, whereas nonlocal schemes can consider a deeper layer covering multiple levels in representing the effects of vertical mixing through the PBL. As an application, a pair of cold season severe weather events that occurred in the southeastern United States are examined. Such cases highlight the ambiguities of classically defined PBL schemes in a cold season severe weather environment, though characteristics of the PBL schemes are apparent in this case. Low-level lapse rates and storm-relative helicity are typically steeper and slightly smaller for nonlocal than local schemes, respectively. Nonlocal mixing is necessary to more accurately forecast the lower-tropospheric lapse rates within the warm sector of these events. While all schemes yield overestimations of mixed-layer convective available potential energy (MLCAPE), nonlocal schemes more strongly overestimate MLCAPE than do local schemes.

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Derek R. Stratman, Michael C. Coniglio, Steven E. Koch, and Ming Xue

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This study uses both traditional and newer verification methods to evaluate two 4-km grid-spacing Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) forecasts: a “cold start” forecast that uses the 12-km North American Mesoscale Model (NAM) analysis and forecast cycle to derive the initial and boundary conditions (C0) and a “hot start” forecast that adds radar data into the initial conditions using a three-dimensional variational data assimilation (3DVAR)/cloud analysis technique (CN). These forecasts were evaluated as part of 2009 and 2010 NOAA Hazardous Weather Test Bed (HWT) Spring Forecasting Experiments. The Spring Forecasting Experiment participants noted that the skill of CN’s explicit forecasts of convection estimated by some traditional objective metrics often seemed large compared to the subjectively determined skill. The Gilbert skill score (GSS) reveals CN scores higher than C0 at lower thresholds likely due to CN having higher-frequency biases than C0, but the difference is negligible at higher thresholds, where CN’s and C0’s frequency biases are similar. This suggests that if traditional skill scores are used to quantify convective forecasts, then higher (>35 dBZ) reflectivity thresholds should be used to be consistent with expert’s subjective assessments of the lack of forecast skill for individual convective cells. The spatial verification methods show that both CN and C0 generally have little to no skill at scales <8–12Δx starting at forecast hour 1, but CN has more skill at larger spatial scales (40–320 km) than C0 for the majority of the forecasting period. This indicates that the hot start provides little to no benefit for forecasts of convective cells, but that it has some benefit for larger mesoscale precipitation systems.

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Ariel E. Cohen, Steven M. Cavallo, Michael C. Coniglio, Harold E. Brooks, and Israel L. Jirak

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Southeast U.S. cold season severe weather events can be difficult to predict because of the marginality of the supporting thermodynamic instability in this regime. The sensitivity of this environment to prognoses of instability encourages additional research on ways in which mesoscale models represent turbulent processes within the lower atmosphere that directly influence thermodynamic profiles and forecasts of instability. This work summarizes characteristics of the southeast U.S. cold season severe weather environment and planetary boundary layer (PBL) parameterization schemes used in mesoscale modeling and proceeds with a focused investigation of the performance of nine different representations of the PBL in this environment by comparing simulated thermodynamic and kinematic profiles to observationally influenced ones. It is demonstrated that simultaneous representation of both nonlocal and local mixing in the Asymmetric Convective Model, version 2 (ACM2), scheme has the lowest overall errors for the southeast U.S. cold season tornado regime. For storm-relative helicity, strictly nonlocal schemes provide the largest overall differences from observationally influenced datasets (underforecast). Meanwhile, strictly local schemes yield the most extreme differences from these observationally influenced datasets (underforecast) in a mean sense for the low-level lapse rate and depth of the PBL, on average. A hybrid local–nonlocal scheme is found to mitigate these mean difference extremes. These findings are traced to a tendency for local schemes to incompletely mix the PBL while nonlocal schemes overmix the PBL, whereas the hybrid schemes represent more intermediate mixing in a regime where vertical shear enhances mixing and limited instability suppresses mixing.

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Stephen F. Corfidi, Michael C. Coniglio, Ariel E. Cohen, and Corey M. Mead

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The word “derecho” was first used by Gustavus Hinrichs in 1888 to distinguish the widespread damaging windstorms that occurred on occasion over the mid–Mississippi Valley region of the United States from damaging winds associated with tornadoes. The term soon fell into disuse, however, and did not appear in the literature until Robert Johns and William Hirt resurrected it in the mid-1980s.

While the present definition of derecho served well during the early years of the term’s reintroduction to the meteorological community, it has several shortcomings. These have become more apparent in recent years as various studies shed light on the physical processes responsible for the production of widespread damaging winds. In particular, the current definition’s emphasis on the coverage of storm reports at the expense of identifying the convective structures and physical processes deemed responsible for the reports has led to the term being applied to wind events beyond those for which it originally was intended.

The revised definition of a derecho proposed herein is intended to focus more specifically on those types of windstorms that are the most damaging and potentially life threatening because of their intensity, sustenance, and degree of organization. The proposal is not intended to be final or all encompassing, but rather an initial step toward ultimately realizing a more complete physically based taxonomy that also addresses other forms of damaging-wind-producing convective systems.

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Ariel E. Cohen, Michael C. Coniglio, Stephen F. Corfidi, and Sarah J. Corfidi

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The prediction of the strength of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) is a major concern to operational meteorologists and the public. To address this forecast problem, this study examines meteorological variables derived from sounding observations taken in the environment of quasi-linear MCSs. A set of 186 soundings that sampled the beginning and mature stages of the MCSs are categorized by their production of severe surface winds into weak, severe, and derecho-producing MCSs. Differences in the variables among these three MCS categories are identified and discussed. Mean low- to upper-level wind speeds and deep-layer vertical wind shear, especially the component perpendicular to the convective line, are excellent discriminators among all three categories. Low-level inflow relative to the system is found to be an excellent discriminator, largely because of the strong relationship of system severity to system speed. Examination of the mean wind and shear vectors relative to MCS motion suggests that cell propagation along the direction of cell advection is a trait that separates severe, long-lived MCSs from the slower-moving, nonsevere variety and that this is favored when both the deep-layer shear vector and the mean deep-layer wind are large and nearly parallel. Midlevel environmental lapse rates are found to be very good discriminators among all three MCS categories, while vertical differences in equivalent potential temperature and CAPE only discriminate well between weak and severe/derecho MCS environments. Knowledge of these variables and their distribution among the different categories of MCS intensity can be used to improve forecasts and convective watches for organized convective wind events.

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Robert J. Trapp, David J. Stensrud, Michael C. Coniglio, Russ S. Schumacher, Michael E. Baldwin, Sean Waugh, and Don T. Conlee

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The Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX) was a field campaign conducted 15 May through 15 June 2013 within the Great Plains region of the United States. One of the research foci of MPEX regarded the upscaling effects of deep convective storms on their environment, and how these feed back to the convective-scale dynamics and predictability. Balloon-borne GPS radiosondes, or “upsondes,” were used to sample such environmental feedbacks. Two of the upsonde teams employed dual-frequency sounding systems that allowed for upsonde observations at intervals as fast as 15 min. Because these dual-frequency systems also had the capacity for full mobility during sonde reception, highly adaptive and rapid storm-relative sampling of the convectively modified environment was possible. This article documents the mobile sounding capabilities and unique sampling strategies employed during MPEX.

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