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Luke J. LeBel
and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

The initiation of thunderstorms in environments characterized by strong wind shear presents a forecast challenge because of the complexities of the interactions between growing cumulus clouds and wind shear. Thunderstorms that develop in such environments are often capable of producing high-impact hazards, highlighting the importance of convection initiation in sheared environments. Although recent research has greatly improved understanding of the structure and evolution of rising thermals in unsheared environments, there remains uncertainty in how wind shear influences the convection initiation process. Two large-eddy simulations (75-m horizontal grid spacing) were performed to study this problem. Convection initiation attempts are forced in the simulations through prescribed surface heat fluxes (the initial boundary layers are statistically horizontally homogeneous and quasi–steady state but contain turbulent eddies as a result of random initial temperature perturbations). The only difference between the two simulations is the presence or absence of wind shear above 2 km. Important differences in the entrainment patterns are present between sheared and unsheared growing cumulus clouds. As found in previous research, the overturning circulation associated with rising thermals drives dynamic entrainment in the unsheared clouds. However, in sheared clouds, wake entrainment resulting from the tilting of environmental vorticity is an important dynamic entrainment pathway. This result has implications for both the structure of sheared growing cumulus clouds and for convection initiation in sheared environments.

Significance Statement

Forecasts of thunderstorm hazards such as tornadoes, hail, and strong winds, require the accurate prediction of when and where thunderstorms form. Unfortunately, predicting thunderstorm formation is not easy, as there are a lot of different factors to consider. One such factor is environmental vertical wind shear, which describes how winds change speed and direction with height. The purpose of this study is to better understand how wind shear impacts developing clouds. Our results demonstrate a specific mechanism, called “wake entrainment,” through which wind shear can weaken developing clouds and potentially prevent them from becoming strong thunderstorms entirely. Understanding this mechanism may be useful for thunderstorm prediction in environments characterized by wind shear.

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Abdullah Kahraman
,
Mikdat Kadioglu
, and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

Severe convective storms occasionally result in loss of life and property in Turkey, a country not known for its severe convective weather. However, relatively little is known about the characteristics of Turkish severe weather environments. This paper documents these characteristics using European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reanalysis data on tornado and severe hail days in Turkey from 1979 to 2013. Severe storm environments are characterized by larger convective available potential energy (CAPE) in Turkey compared to the rest of Europe, but the CAPE values are less than those in typical U.S. severe storm environments. Severe hail is associated with large CAPE and vertical wind shear. Nonmesocyclonic tornadoes are associated with less CAPE compared with the other forms of severe weather. Deep-layer vertical wind shear is slightly weaker in Turkish supercell environments than in U.S. supercell environments, and Turkish tornadic supercell environments are characterized by much weaker low-level shear than in the United States and Europe, at least in the ECMWF reanalysis data. Composite parameters such as the supercell composite parameter (SCP) and energy–helicity index (EHI) can discriminate between very large hail and large hail environments.

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Charles A. Doswell III
and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

Basic concepts of buoyancy are reviewed and considered first in light of simple parcel theory and then in a more complete form. It is shown that parcel theory is generally developed in terms of the density (temperature) difference between an ascending parcel and an “environment” surrounding that parcel. That is, buoyancy is often understood as a relative quantity that apparently depends on the choice of a base-state environmental profile. However, parcel theory is most appropriately understood as a probe of the static stability of a sounding to finite vertical displacements of hypothetical parcels within the sounding rather than as a useful model of deep convection.

The thermal buoyancy force, as measured by the temperature difference between a parcel and the base state, and vertical perturbation pressure gradient force together must remain independent of the base state. The vertical perturbation pressure gradient force can be decomposed to include a term due to thermal buoyancy and another due to the properties of motion in the flow. Some thought experiments are presented to illustrate the ambiguous relevance of the base state.

It is concluded that buoyancy is not a relative quantity in that it cannot be dependent on the choice of an essentially arbitrary reference state. Buoyancy is the static part of an unbalanced vertical pressure gradient force and, as such, is determined locally, not relative to some arbitrary base state outside of a parcel. This has direct application to the diagnosis of buoyancy from numerical simulations—done properly, such a diagnosis must include not only the thermal buoyancy term but also the perturbation pressure gradient force due to buoyancy.

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Aaron Wang
,
Ying Pan
, and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

This work explores the influence of weighted essentially nonoscillatory (WENO) schemes on Cloud Model 1 (CM1) large-eddy simulations (LES) of a quasi-steady, horizontally homogeneous, fully developed, neutral atmospheric boundary layer (ABL). An advantage of applying WENO schemes to scalar advection in compressible models is the elimination of acoustic waves and associated oscillations of domain-total vertical velocity. Applying WENO schemes to momentum advection in addition to scalar advection yields no further advantage but has an adverse effect on resolved turbulence within LES. As a tool designed to reduce numerically generated spurious oscillations, WENO schemes also suppress physically realistic instability development in turbulence-resolving simulations. Thus, applying WENO schemes to momentum advection reduces vortex stretching, suppresses the energy cascade, reduces shear-production of resolved Reynolds stress, and eventually amplifies the differences between the surface-layer mean wind profiles in the LES and the mean wind profiles expected in accordance with the filtered law of the wall (LOTW). The role of WENO schemes in adversely influencing surface-layer turbulence has inspired a concept of anti-WENO (AWENO) schemes to enhance instability development in regions where energy-containing turbulent motions are inadequately resolved by LES grids. The success in reproducing the filtered LOTW via AWENO schemes suggests that improving advection schemes is a critical component toward faithfully simulating near-surface turbulence and dealing with other “terra incognita” problems.

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Aaron Wang
,
Ying Pan
, and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

Surface friction contributes to tornado formation and maintenance by enhancing the convergence of angular momentum. The traditional lower boundary condition in atmospheric models typically assumes an instant equilibrium between the unresolved stress and the resolved shear. This assumption ignores the physics that turbulent motions are generated and dissipated at finite rates—in effect, turbulence has a memory through its lifetime. In this work, a modified lower boundary condition is proposed to account for the effect of turbulence memory. Specifically, when an air parcel moves along a curved trajectory, a normal surface-shear-stress component arises owing to turbulence memory. In the accompanying large-eddy simulation (LES) of idealized tornadoes, the normal surface-shear-stress component is a source of additional dynamic instability, which provides an extra pathway for the development of turbulent motions. The influence of turbulence memory on the intensity of quasi-steady-state tornadoes remains negligible as long as assumptions employed by the modified lower boundary condition hold over a relatively large fraction of the flow region of interest. However, tornadoes in a transient state may be especially sensitive to turbulence memory.

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Paul M. Markowski
,
Jerry M. Straka
, and
Erik N. Rasmussen

Abstract

Despite the long-surmised importance of the hook echo and rear-flank downdraft (RFD) in tornadogenesis, only a paucity of direct observations have been obtained at the surface within hook echoes and RFDs. In this paper, in situ surface observations within hook echoes and RFDs are analyzed. These “mobile mesonet” data have unprecedented horizontal spatial resolution and were obtained from the Verifications of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX) and additional field experiments conducted since the conclusion of VORTEX. The surface thermodynamic characteristics of hook echoes and RFDs associated with tornadic and nontornadic supercells are investigated to address whether certain types of hook echoes and RFDs are favorable (or unfavorable) for tornadogenesis.

Tornadogenesis is more likely and tornado intensity and longevity increase as the surface buoyancy, potential buoyancy (as measured by the convective available potential energy), and equivalent potential temperature in the RFD increase, and as the convective inhibition associated with RFD parcels at the surface decreases. It is hypothesized that evaporative cooling and entrainment of midlevel potentially cold air may play smaller roles in the development of RFDs associated with tornadic supercells compared to nontornadic supercells. Furthermore, baroclinity at the surface within the hook echo is not a necessary condition for tornadogenesis. It also will be shown that environments characterized by high boundary layer relative humidity (and low cloud base) may be more conducive to RFDs associated with relatively high buoyancy than environments characterized by low boundary layer relative humidity (and high cloud base).

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Paul M. Markowski
,
Erik N. Rasmussen
, and
Jerry M. Straka

Abstract

During the Verifications of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, nearly 70% of the significant tornadoes occurred near low-level boundaries not associated with the forward or rear flank downdrafts of supercells. In general, these were preexisting boundaries readily identified using conventional data sources. Most of the tornadoes occurred on the cool side of these low-level boundaries and generally within 30 km of the boundaries. It is likely that the low-level boundaries augmented the “ambient” horizontal vorticity, which, upon further generation in the forward-flank region, became sufficient to be associated with tornadic low-level mesocyclones. Some implications for forecasting and further research are discussed.

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Paul M. Markowski
,
Jerry M. Straka
, and
Erik N. Rasmussen

Abstract

Idealized numerical simulations are conducted in which an axisymmetric, moist, rotating updraft free of rain is initiated, after which a downdraft is imposed by precipitation loading. The experiments are designed to emulate a supercell updraft that has rotation aloft initially, followed by the formation of a downdraft and descent of a rain curtain on the rear flank. In the idealized simulations, the rain curtain and downdraft are annular, rather than hook-shaped, as is typically observed. The downdraft transports angular momentum, which is initially a maximum aloft and zero at the surface, toward the ground. Once reaching the ground, the circulation-rich air is converged beneath the updraft and a tornado develops. The intensity and longevity of the tornado depend on the thermodynamic characteristics of the angular momentum-transporting downdraft, which are sensitive to the ambient low-level relative humidity and precipitation character of the rain curtain. For large low-level relative humidity and a rain curtain having a relatively small precipitation concentration, the imposed downdraft is warmer than when the low-level relative humidity is small and the precipitation concentration of the rain curtain is large. The simulated tornadoes are stronger and longer-lived when the imposed downdrafts are relatively warm compared to when the downdrafts are relatively cold, owing to a larger amount of convergence of circulation-rich downdraft air. The results may explain some recent observations of the tendency for supercells to be tornadic when their rear-flank downdrafts are associated with relatively small temperature deficits.

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Christopher J. Nowotarski
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
Yvette P. Richardson

Abstract

This paper uses idealized numerical simulations to investigate the dynamical influences of stable boundary layers on the morphology of supercell thunderstorms, especially the development of low-level rotation. Simulations are initialized in a horizontally homogeneous environment with a surface-based stable layer similar to that found within a nocturnal boundary layer or a mesoscale cold pool. The depth and lapse rate of the imposed stable boundary layer, which together control the convective inhibition (CIN), are varied in a suite of experiments.

When compared with a control simulation having little surface-based CIN, each supercell simulated in an environment having a stable boundary layer develops weaker rotation, updrafts, and downdrafts at low levels; in general, low-level vertical vorticity and vertical velocity magnitude decrease as initial CIN increases (changes in CIN are due only to variations in the imposed stable boundary layer). Though the presence of a stable boundary layer decreases low-level updraft strength, all supercells except those initiated over the most stable boundary layers had at least some updraft parcels with near-surface origins. Furthermore, the existence of a stable boundary layer only prohibits downdraft parcels from reaching the lowest grid level in the most stable cases. Trajectory and circulation analyses indicate that weaker near-surface rotation in the stable-layer scenarios is a result of the decreased generation of circulation coupled with decreased convergence of the near-surface circulation by weaker low-level updrafts. These results may also suggest a reason why tornadogenesis is less likely to occur in so-called elevated supercell thunderstorms than in surface-based supercells.

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Richard P. James
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
J. Michael Fritsch

Abstract

Bow echo development within quasi-linear convective systems is investigated using a storm-scale numerical model. A strong sensitivity to the ambient water vapor mixing ratio is demonstrated. Relatively dry conditions at low and midlevels favor intense cold-air production and strong cold pool development, leading to upshear-tilted, “slab-like” convection for various magnitudes of convective available potential energy (CAPE) and low-level shear. High relative humidity in the environment tends to reduce the rate of production of cold air, leading to weak cold pools and downshear-tilted convective systems, with primarily cell-scale three-dimensionality in the convective region. At intermediate moisture contents, long-lived, coherent bowing segments are generated within the convective line. In general, the scale of the coherent three-dimensional structures increases with increasing cold pool strength.

The bowing lines are characterized in their developing and mature stages by segments of the convective line measuring 15–40 km in length over which the cold pool is much stronger than at other locations along the line. The growth of bow echo structures within a linear convective system appears to depend critically on the local strengthening of the cold pool to the extent that the convection becomes locally upshear tilted. A positive feedback process is thereby initiated, allowing the intensification of the bow echo. If the environment favors an excessively strong cold pool, however, the entire line becomes uniformly upshear tilted relatively quickly, and the along-line heterogeneity of the bowing line is lost.

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