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Paul M. Markowski
,
Jerry M. Straka
,
Erik N. Rasmussen
, and
David O. Blanchard

Abstract

In this paper, storm-relative helicity (SRH) and low-level vertical shear of the horizontal wind fields were investigated on the mesoscale and stormscale in regions where tornadoes occurred for four case studies using data collected during the Verification of the Origin of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment. A primary finding was that SRH was highly variable in both time and space in all of the cases, suggesting that this parameter might be difficult to use to predict which storms might become tornadic given the available National Weather Service upper-air wind data. Second, it was also found that the shear between the lowest mean 500-m wind and the 6-km wind was fairly uniform over vast regions in all of the four cases studied; thus, this parameter provided little guidance other than that there was possibly enough shear to support supercells. It was contended that forecasters will need to monitor low-level features, such as boundaries or wind accelerations, which might augment streamwise vorticity ingested into storms. Finally, it was suggested that one reason why one storm might produce a tornado while a nearby one does not might be due to the large variations in SRH on very small spatial and temporal scales. In other words, only those storms that move into regions, small or large, with sufficient SRH might produce tornadoes.

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David M. Schultz
,
Yvette P. Richardson
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
Charles A. Doswell III

After tornado outbreaks or individual violent tornadoes occur in the central United States, media stories often attribute the location, number, or intensity of tornadoes to the “clash of air masses” between warm tropical air and cold polar air. This article argues that such a characterization of tornadogenesis is oversimplified, outdated, and incorrect. Airmass boundaries and associated temperature gradients can be important in tornadogenesis, but not in the ways envisioned on the synoptic scale with the clash-of-air-masses conceptual model. In fact, excessively strong horizontal temperature gradients (either on the synoptic scale or associated with a storm's own cool outflow) may be detrimental to tornadogenesis. Where adjacent air masses are relevant is through their vertical distribution that produces the requisite instability for the convective storm, but that instability is not directly related to the formation of tornadoes. Therefore, this article recommends that a greater effort be made to communicate accurately to the public the current scientific understanding of the conditions under which tornadoes are formed.

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Abdullah Kahraman
,
Şeyda Tilev-Tanriover
,
Mikdat Kadioglu
,
David M. Schultz
, and
Paul M. Markowski

Abstract

A climatology of severe hail (diameter equal to or exceeding approximately 1.5 cm) for Turkey is constructed from official severe weather reports from meteorological stations, newspaper archives, and Internet sources. The dataset consists of 1489 severe hail cases on 1107 severe hail days (days with at least one severe hail case) during 1925–2014. Severe hail was reported most often in the 1960s, followed by a decrease until the 2000s, and an ensuing increase in the past decade. Severe hail is most likely to occur in the afternoon and evening, and in spring and summer, particularly May and June. The geographical distribution implies that almost all of Turkey is prone to severe hailstorms. In 8.3% of the severe hail cases, very large hailstones (diameter equal to or exceeding approximately 4.5 cm) were observed.

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Erik N. Rasmussen
,
Scott Richardson
,
Jerry M. Straka
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
David O. Blanchard

Abstract

On 2 June 1995, the large-scale environment of eastern New Mexico and western Texas was generally favorable for the occurrence of supercells because of the presence of strong deep shear and storm-relative helicity, as well as sufficient convective available potential energy (CAPE). Indeed, many supercells occurred, but the only storms to produce tornadoes were those supercells that crossed, or developed and persisted on the immediate cool side of a particular outflow boundary generated by earlier convection. Surface conditions, vertical vorticity, and horizontal vorticity near this boundary are documented using conventional and special observations from the VORTEX field program. It is shown that the boundary was locally rich in horizontal vorticity, had somewhat enhanced vertical vorticity, and enhanced CAPE. Theoretical arguments indicate that the observed horizontal vorticity (around 1 × 10−2 s−1), largely parallel to the boundary, can be readily produced with the type of buoyancy contrast observed. It is hypothesized that such local enhancement of horizontal vorticity often is required for the occurrence of significant (e.g., F2 or stronger) tornadoes, even in large-scale environments that appear conducive to tornado occurrence without the aid of local influences.

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Paul M. Markowski
,
Yvette P. Richardson
,
Scott J. Richardson
, and
Anders Petersson

Abstract

The severe storms research community lacks reliable, aboveground, thermodynamic observations (e.g., temperature, humidity, and pressure) in convective storms. These missing observations are crucial to understanding the behavior of both supercell storms (e.g., the generation, reorientation, and amplification of vorticity necessary for tornado formation) and larger-scale (mesoscale) convective systems (e.g., storm maintenance and the generation of damaging straight-line winds). This paper describes a novel way to use balloonborne probes to obtain aboveground thermodynamic observations. Each probe is carried by a pair of balloons until one of the balloons is jettisoned; the remaining balloon and probe act as a pseudo-Lagrangian drifter that is drawn through the storm. Preliminary data are presented from a pair of deployments in supercell storms in Oklahoma and Kansas during May 2017. The versatility of the observing system extends beyond severe storms applications into any area of mesoscale meteorology in which a large array of aboveground, in situ thermodynamic observations are needed.

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Shawn S. Murdzek
,
Paul M. Markowski
,
Yvette P. Richardson
, and
Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Convective inhibition (CIN) is one of the parameters used by forecasters to determine the inflow layer of a convective storm, but little work has examined the best way to compute CIN. One decision that must be made is whether to lift parcels following a pseudoadiabat (removing hydrometeors as the parcel ascends) or reversible moist adiabat (retaining hydrometeors). To determine which option is best, idealized simulations of ordinary convection are examined using a variety of base states with different reversible CIN values for parcels originating in the lowest 500 m. Parcel trajectories suggest that ascent over the lowest few kilometers, where CIN is typically accumulated, is best conceptualized as a reversible moist adiabatic process instead of a pseudoadiabatic process. Most inflow layers do not contain parcels with substantial reversible CIN, despite these parcels possessing ample convective available potential energy and minimal pseudoadiabatic CIN. If a stronger initiation method is used, or hydrometeor loading is ignored, simulations can ingest more parcels with large amounts of reversible CIN. These results suggest that reversible CIN, not pseudoadiabatic CIN, is the physically relevant way to compute CIN and that forecasters may benefit from examining reversible CIN instead of pseudoadiabatic CIN when determining the inflow layer.

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Scott D. Loeffler
,
Matthew R. Kumjian
,
Paul M. Markowski
,
Brice E. Coffer
, and
Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

The national upgrade of the operational weather radar network to include polarimetric capabilities has led to numerous studies focusing on polarimetric radar signatures commonly observed in supercells. One such signature is the horizontal separation of regions of enhanced differential reflectivity (Z DR) and specific differential phase (K DP) values due to hydrometeor size sorting. Recent observational studies have shown that the orientation of this separation tends to be more perpendicular to storm motion in supercells that produce tornadoes. Although this finding has potential operational utility, the physical relationship between this observed radar signature and tornadic potential is not known. This study uses an ensemble of supercell simulations initialized with tornadic and nontornadic environments to investigate this connection. The tendency for tornadic supercells to have a more perpendicular separation orientation was reproduced, although to a lesser degree. This difference in orientation angles was caused by stronger rearward storm-relative flow in the nontornadic supercells, leading to a rearward shift of precipitation and, therefore, the enhanced K DP region within the supercell. Further, this resulted in an unfavorable rearward shift of the negative buoyancy region, which led to an order of magnitude less baroclinic generation of circulation in the nontornadic simulations compared to tornadic simulations.

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

Abstract

Simulations of supercell thunderstorms in a sheared convective boundary layer (CBL), characterized by quasi-two-dimensional rolls, are compared with simulations having horizontally homogeneous environments. The effects of boundary layer convection on the general characteristics and the low-level mesocyclones of the simulated supercells are investigated for rolls oriented either perpendicular or parallel to storm motion, as well as with and without the effects of cloud shading.

Bulk measures of storm strength are not greatly affected by the presence of rolls in the near-storm environment. Though boundary layer convection diminishes with time under the anvil shadow of the supercells when cloud shading is allowed, simulations without cloud shading suggest that rolls affect the morphology and evolution of supercell low-level mesocyclones. Initially, CBL vertical vorticity perturbations are enhanced along the supercell outflow boundary, resulting in nonnegligible near-ground vertical vorticity regardless of roll orientation. At later times, supercells that move perpendicular to the axes of rolls in their environment have low-level mesocyclones with weaker, less persistent circulation compared to those in a similar horizontally homogeneous environment. For storms moving parallel to rolls, the opposite result is found: that is, low-level mesocyclone circulation is often enhanced relative to that in the corresponding horizontally homogeneous environment.

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

Abstract

Nearly all previous numerical simulations of supercell thunderstorms have neglected surface fluxes of heat, moisture, and momentum. This choice precludes horizontal inhomogeneities associated with dry boundary layer convection in the near-storm environment. As part of a broader study on how mature supercell thunderstorms are affected by a convective boundary layer (CBL) with quasi-two-dimensional features (i.e., boundary layer rolls), this paper documents the methods used to develop a realistic CBL in an idealized environment supportive of supercells. The evolution and characteristics of the modeled CBL, including the horizontal variability of thermodynamic and kinematic quantities known to affect supercell evolution, are presented. The simulated rolls result in periodic bands of perturbations in temperature, moisture, convective available potential energy (CAPE), vertical wind shear, and storm-relative helicity (SRH). Vertical vorticity is shown to arise within the boundary layer through the tilting of ambient horizontal vorticity associated with the background shear by vertical velocity perturbations in the turbulent CBL. Sensitivity tests suggest that 200-m horizontal grid spacing is adequate to represent rolls using a large-eddy simulation (LES) approach.

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Shawn S. Murdzek
,
Yvette P. Richardson
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Several studies have documented the sensitivity of convective storm simulations to the microphysics parameterization, but there is less research documenting how these sensitivities change with environmental conditions. In this study, the influence of the lifting condensation level (LCL) on the sensitivity of simulated ordinary convective storm cold pools to the microphysics parameterization is examined. To do this, seven perturbed-microphysics ensembles with nine members each are used, where each ensemble uses a different base state with a surface-based LCL between 500 and 2000 m. A comparison of ensemble standard deviations of cold-pool properties shows a clear trend of increasing sensitivity to the microphysics as the LCL is raised. In physical terms, this trend is the result of lower relative humidities in high-LCL environments that increase low-level rain evaporational cooling rates, which magnifies differences in evaporation already present among the members of a given ensemble owing to the microphysics variations. Omitting supersaturation from the calculation of rain evaporation so that only the raindrop size distribution influences evaporation leads to more evaporation in the low-LCL simulations (owing to more drops), as well as a slightly larger spread in evaporational cooling amounts between members in the low-LCL ensembles. Cold pools in the low-LCL environments are also found to develop earlier and are initially more sensitive to raindrop breakup owing to a larger warm-cloud depth. Altogether, these results suggest that convective storms may be more predictable in low-LCL environments, and forecasts of convection in high-LCL environments may benefit the most from microphysics perturbations within an ensemble forecasting system.

Significance Statement

Computer simulations of thunderstorms can have grid spacings ranging from tens to thousands of meters. Because individual precipitation particles form on scales smaller than these grid spacings, the bulk effects of precipitation processes in models must be approximated. Past studies have found that models are sensitive to these approximations. In this study, we test whether the sensitivity to these approximations changes with the relative humidity in the lowest 1–2 km of the atmosphere. We found that increasing the relative humidity decreases the sensitivity of simulations to the precipitation process approximations. These results can inform meteorologists about the uncertainties surrounding computer-generated thunderstorm forecasts and suggest environmental conditions where using several computer models with different precipitation process approximations may be beneficial.

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