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Kristopher M. Bedka
,
John T. Allen
,
Heinz Jurgen Punge
,
Michael Kunz
, and
Denis Simanovic

ABSTRACT

A 10-yr geostationary (GEO) overshooting cloud-top (OT) detection database using Multifunction Transport Satellite (MTSAT) Japanese Advanced Meteorological Imager (JAMI) observations has been developed over the Australian region. GEO satellite imagers collect spatially and temporally detailed observations of deep convection, providing insight into the development and evolution of hazardous storms, particularly where surface observations of hazardous storms and deep convection are sparse and ground-based radar or lightning sensor networks are limited. Hazardous storms often produce one or more OTs that indicate the location of strong updrafts where weather hazards are typically concentrated, which can cause substantial impacts on the ground such as hail, damaging winds, tornadoes, and lightning and to aviation such as turbulence and in-flight icing. The 10-yr OT database produced using an automated OT detection algorithm is demonstrated for analysis of storm frequency, diurnally, spatially, and seasonally relative to known features such as the Australian monsoon, expected regions of hazardous storms along the southeastern coastal regions of southern Queensland and New South Wales, and the preferential extratropical cyclone track along the Indian Ocean and southern Australian coast. A filter based on atmospheric instability, deep-layer wind shear, and freezing level was used to identify OTs that could have produced hail. The filtered OT database is used to generate a hail frequency estimate that identifies a region extending from north of Brisbane to Sydney and the Goldfields–Esperance region of eastern Western Australia as the most hail-prone regions.

Full access
Mateusz Taszarek
,
Natalia Pilguj
,
John T. Allen
,
Victor Gensini
,
Harold E. Brooks
, and
Piotr Szuster

Abstract

In this study we compared 3.7 million rawinsonde observations from 232 stations over Europe and North America with proximal vertical profiles from ERA5 and MERRA-2 to examine how well reanalysis depicts observed convective parameters. Larger differences between soundings and reanalysis are found for thermodynamic theoretical parcel parameters, low-level lapse rates, and low-level wind shear. In contrast, reanalysis best represents temperature and moisture variables, midtropospheric lapse rates, and mean wind. Both reanalyses underestimate CAPE, low-level moisture, and wind shear, particularly when considering extreme values. Overestimation is observed for low-level lapse rates, midtropospheric moisture, and the level of free convection. Mixed-layer parcels have overall better accuracy when compared to most-unstable parcels, especially considering convective inhibition and lifted condensation level. Mean absolute error for both reanalyses has been steadily decreasing over the last 39 years for almost every analyzed variable. Compared to MERRA-2, ERA5 has higher correlations and lower mean absolute errors. MERRA-2 is typically drier and less unstable over central Europe and the Balkans, with the opposite pattern over western Russia. Both reanalyses underestimate CAPE and CIN over the Great Plains. Reanalyses are more reliable for lower elevation stations and struggle along boundaries such as coastal zones and mountains. Based on the results from this and prior studies we suggest that ERA5 is likely one of the most reliable available reanalyses for exploration of convective environments, mainly due to its improved resolution. For future studies we also recommend that computation of convective variables should use model levels that provide more accurate sampling of the boundary layer conditions compared to less numerous pressure levels.

Open access
Mateusz Taszarek
,
John T. Allen
,
Tomáš Púčik
,
Kimberly A. Hoogewind
, and
Harold E. Brooks

Abstract

In this study we investigate convective environments and their corresponding climatological features over Europe and the United States. For this purpose, National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and Arrival Time Difference long-range lightning detection network (ATDnet) data, ERA5 hybrid-sigma levels, and severe weather reports from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD) and Storm Prediction Center (SPC) Storm Data were combined on a common grid of 0.25° and 1-h steps over the period 1979–2018. The severity of convective hazards increases with increasing instability and wind shear (WMAXSHEAR), but climatological aspects of these features differ over both domains. Environments over the United States are characterized by higher moisture, CAPE, CIN, wind shear, and midtropospheric lapse rates. Conversely, 0–3-km CAPE and low-level lapse rates are higher over Europe. From the climatological perspective severe thunderstorm environments (hours) are around 3–4 times more frequent over the United States with peaks across the Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeast. Over Europe severe environments are the most common over the south with local maxima in northern Italy. Despite having lower CAPE (tail distribution of 3000–4000 J kg−1 compared to 6000–8000 J kg−1 over the United States), thunderstorms over Europe have a higher probability for convective initiation given a favorable environment. Conversely, the lowest probability for initiation is observed over the Great Plains, but, once a thunderstorm develops, the probability that it will become severe is much higher compared to Europe. Prime conditions for severe thunderstorms over the United States are between April and June, typically from 1200 to 2200 central standard time (CST), while across Europe favorable environments are observed from June to August, usually between 1400 and 2100 UTC.

Open access
Vittorio A. Gensini
,
Bradford S. Barrett
,
John T. Allen
,
David Gold
, and
Paul Sirvatka

Abstract

Large-scale weather patterns favorable for tornado occurrence have been understood for many decades. Yet prediction of tornadoes, especially at extended lead periods of more than a few days, remains an arduous task, partly due to the space and time scales involved. Recent research has shown that tropical convection, sea surface temperatures, and the Earth-relative atmospheric angular momentum can induce jet stream configurations that may increase or decrease the probability of tornado frequency across the United States. Applying this recent theoretical work in practice, on 1 March 2015, the authors began the Extended-Range Tornado Activity Forecast (ERTAF) project, with the following goals: 1) to have a map room–style discussion of the anticipated atmospheric state in the 2–3-week lead window; 2) to predict categorical level of tornado activity in that lead window; and 3) to learn from the forecasts through experience by identifying strengths and weaknesses in the methods, as well as identifying any potential scientific knowledge gaps. Over the last five years, the authors have shown skill in predicting U.S. tornado activity two to three weeks in advance during boreal spring. Unsurprisingly, skill is shown to be greater for forecasts spanning week 2 versus week 3. This manuscript documents these forecasting efforts, provides verification statistics, and shares the challenges and lessons learned from predicting tornado activity on the subseasonal time scale.

Free access
Mateusz Taszarek
,
John T. Allen
,
Harold E. Brooks
,
Natalia Pilguj
, and
Bartosz Czernecki
Full access
John M. Peters
,
Brice E. Coffer
,
Matthew D. Parker
,
Christopher J. Nowotarski
,
Jake P. Mulholland
,
Cameron J. Nixon
, and
John T. Allen

Abstract

Sufficient low-level storm-relative flow is a necessary ingredient for sustained supercell thunderstorms and is connected to supercell updraft width. Assuming a supercell exists, the role of low-level storm-relative flow in regulating supercells’ low-level mesocyclone intensity is less clear. One possibility considered in this article is that storm-relative flow controls mesocyclone and tornado width via its modulation of overall updraft extent. This hypothesis relies on a previously postulated positive correspondence between updraft width, mesocyclone width, and tornado width. An alternative hypothesis is that mesocyclone characteristics are primarily regulated by horizontal streamwise vorticity irrespective of storm-relative flow. A matrix of supercell simulations was analyzed to address the aforementioned hypotheses, wherein horizontal streamwise vorticity and storm-relative flow were independently varied. Among these simulations, mesocyclone width and intensity were strongly correlated with horizontal streamwise vorticity, and comparatively weakly correlated with storm-relative flow, supporting the second hypothesis. Accompanying theory and trajectory analysis offers the physical explanation that, when storm-relative flow is large and updrafts are wide, vertically tilted streamwise vorticity is projected over a wider area but with a lesser average magnitude than when these parameters are small. These factors partially offset one another, degrading the correspondence of storm-relative flow with updraft circulation and rotational velocity, which are the mesocyclone attributes most closely tied to tornadoes. These results refute the previously purported connections between updraft width, mesocyclone width, and tornado width, and emphasize horizontal streamwise vorticity as the primary control on low-level mesocyclones in sustained supercells.

Significance Statement

The intensity of a supercell thunderstorm’s low-level rotation, known as the “mesocyclone,” is thought to influence tornado likelihood. Mesocyclone intensity depends on many environmental attributes that are often correlated with one another and difficult to disentangle. This study used a large body of numerical simulations to investigate the influence of the speed of low-level air entering a supercell (storm-relative flow), the horizontal spin of the ambient air entering the thunderstorm (streamwise vorticity), and the width of the storm’s updraft. Our results suggest that the rotation of the mesocyclone in supercells is primarily influenced by streamwise vorticity, with comparatively weaker connections to storm-relative flow and updraft width. These findings provide important clarification in our scientific understanding of how a storm’s environment influences the rate of rotation of its mesocyclone, and the associated tornado threat.

Free access
Hung-Neng S. Chin
,
Daniel J. Rodriguez
,
Richard T. Cederwall
,
Catherine C. Chuang
,
Allen S. Grossman
,
John J. Yio
,
Qiang Fu
, and
Mark A. Miller

Abstract

Using measurements from the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program, a modified ground-based remote sensing technique is developed and evaluated to study the impacts of the subadiabatic character of continental low-level stratiform clouds on microphysical properties and radiation budgets. Airborne measurements and millimeter-wavelength cloud radar data are used to validate retrieved microphysical properties of three stratus cloud systems occurring in the April 1994 and 1997 intensive observation periods at the Southern Great Plains site.

The addition of the observed cloud-top height into the Han and Westwater retrieval scheme eliminates the need to invoke the adiabatic assumption. Thus, the retrieved liquid water content (LWC) profile is represented as the product of an adiabatic LWC profile and a weighting function. Based on in situ measurements, two types of weighting functions are considered in this study: one is associated with a subadiabatic condition involving cloud-top entrainment mixing alone (type I) and the other accounts for both cloud-top entrainment mixing and drizzle effects (type II). The adiabatic cloud depth ratio (ACDR), defined as the ratio of the actual cloud depth to the one derived from the adiabatic assumption, is found to be a useful parameter for classifying the subadiabatic character of low-level stratiform clouds. The type I weighting function only exists in the lower ACDR regime, while the type II profile can appear for any adiabatic cloud depth ratio.

Results indicate that the subadiabatic character of low-level stratiform clouds has substantial impacts on radiative energy budgets, especially those in the shortwave, via the retrieved LWC distribution and its related effective radius profile of liquid water. Results also show that this subadiabatic character can act to stabilize the cloud deck by reducing the in-cloud radiative heating/cooling contrast. As a whole, these impacts strengthen as the subadiabatic character of low-level stratiform clouds increases.

Full access
John T. Allen
,
Michael K. Tippett
,
Yasir Kaheil
,
Adam H. Sobel
,
Chiara Lepore
,
Shangyao Nong
, and
Andreas Muehlbauer

Abstract

The spatial distribution of return intervals for U.S. hail size is explored within the framework of extreme value theory using observations from the period 1979–2013. The center of the continent has experienced hail in excess of 5 in. (127 mm) during the past 30 yr, whereas hail in excess of 1 in. (25 mm) is more common in other regions, including the West Coast. Observed hail sizes show heavy quantization toward fixed-diameter reference objects and are influenced by spatial and temporal biases similar to those noted for hail occurrence. Recorded hail diameters have been growing in recent decades because of improved reporting. These data limitations motivate exploration of extreme value distributions to represent the return periods for various hail diameters. The parameters of a Gumbel distribution are fit to dithered observed annual maxima on a national 1° × 1° grid at locations with sufficient records. Gridded and kernel-smoothed return sizes and quantiles up to the 200-yr return period are determined for the fitted Gumbel distribution. These results are used to illustrate return levels for hail greater than a given size for at least one location within each 1° × 1° grid box for the United States.

Open access
Mateusz Taszarek
,
John T. Allen
,
Pieter Groenemeijer
,
Roger Edwards
,
Harold E. Brooks
,
Vanna Chmielewski
, and
Sven-Erik Enno

Abstract

As lightning-detection records lengthen and the efficiency of severe weather reporting increases, more accurate climatologies of convective hazards can be constructed. In this study we aggregate flashes from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and Arrival Time Difference long-range lightning detection network (ATDnet) with severe weather reports from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD) and Storm Prediction Center (SPC) Storm Data on a common grid of 0.25° and 1-h steps. Each year approximately 75–200 thunderstorm hours occur over the southwestern, central, and eastern United States, with a peak over Florida (200–250 h). The activity over the majority of Europe ranges from 15 to 100 h, with peaks over Italy and mountains (Pyrenees, Alps, Carpathians, Dinaric Alps; 100–150 h). The highest convective activity over continental Europe occurs during summer and over the Mediterranean during autumn. The United States peak for tornadoes and large hail reports is in spring, preceding the maximum of lightning and severe wind reports by 1–2 months. Convective hazards occur typically in the late afternoon, with the exception of the Midwest and Great Plains, where mesoscale convective systems shift the peak lightning threat to the night. The severe wind threat is delayed by 1–2 h compared to hail and tornadoes. The fraction of nocturnal lightning over land ranges from 15% to 30% with the lowest values observed over Florida and mountains (~10%). Wintertime lightning shares the highest fraction of severe weather. Compared to Europe, extreme events are considerably more frequent over the United States, with maximum activity over the Great Plains. However, the threat over Europe should not be underestimated, as severe weather outbreaks with damaging winds, very large hail, and significant tornadoes occasionally occur over densely populated areas.

Open access
Arthur Witt
,
Donald W. Burgess
,
Anton Seimon
,
John T. Allen
,
Jeffrey C. Snyder
, and
Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

Rapid-scan radar observations of a supercell that produced near-record size hail in Oklahoma are examined. Data from the National Weather Radar Testbed Phased Array Radar (PAR) in Norman, Oklahoma, are used to study the overall character and evolution of the storm. Data from the nearby polarimetric KOUN WSR-88D and rapid-scanning X-band polarimetric (RaXPol) mobile radar are used to study the evolution of low- to midaltitude dual-polarization parameters above two locations where giant hailstones up to 16 cm in diameter were observed. The PAR observation of the supercell’s maximum storm-top divergent outflow is similar to the strongest previously documented value. The storm’s mesocyclone rotational velocity at midaltitudes reached a maximum that is more than double the median value for similar observations from other storms producing giant hail. For the two storm-relative areas where giant hail was observed, noteworthy findings include 1) the giant hail occurred outside the main precipitation core, in areas with low-altitude reflectivities of 40–50 dBZ; 2) the giant hail was associated with dual-polarization signatures consistent with past observations of large hail at 10-cm wavelength, namely, low Z DR, low ρ HV, and low K DP; 3) the giant hail fell along both the northeast and southwest edges of the primary updraft at ranges of 6–10 km from the updraft center; and 4) with the exception of one isolated report, the giant hail fell to the northeast and northwest of the large tornado and the parent mesocyclone.

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