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Tammy M. Weckwerth
David B. Parsons


The International H2O Project (IHOP_2002) included four complementary research components: quantitative precipitation forecasting, convection initiation, atmospheric boundary layer processes, and instrumentation. This special issue introductory paper will review the current state of knowledge on surface-forced convection initiation and then describe some of the outstanding issues in convection initiation that partially motivated IHOP_2002. Subsequent papers in this special issue will illustrate the value of combining varied and complementary datasets to study convection initiation in order to address the outstanding issues discussed in this paper and new questions that arose from IHOP_2002 observations.

The review will focus on convection initiation by boundaries that are prevalent in the U.S. southern Great Plains. Boundary layer circulations, which are sometimes precursors to deep convective development, are clearly observed by radar as reflectivity fine lines and/or convergence in Doppler velocity. The corresponding thermodynamic distribution, particularly the moisture field, is not as readily measured. During IHOP_2002, a variety of sensors capable of measuring atmospheric water vapor were brought together in an effort to sample the three-dimensional time-varying moisture field and determine its impact on forecasting convection initiation. The strategy included examining convection initiation with targeted observations aimed at sampling regions forecast to be ripe for initiation, primarily along frontal zones, drylines, and their mergers.

A key aspect of these investigations was the combination of varied moisture measurements with the detailed observations of the wind field, as presented in many of the subsequent papers in this issue. For example, the high-resolution measurements are being used to better understand the role of misocyclones on convection initiation. The analyses are starting to elucidate the value of new datasets, including satellite products and radar refractivity retrievals. Data assimilation studies using some of the state-of-the-art datasets from IHOP_2002 are already proving to be quite promising.

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