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Rachel L. Miller, Conrad L. Ziegler, and Michael I. Biggerstaff

Abstract

This case study analyzes a nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) that was observed on 25–26 June 2015 in northeastern Kansas during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) project. Over the course of the observational period, a broken line of elevated nocturnal convective cells initiated around 0230 UTC on the cool side of a stationary front and subsequently merged to form a quasi-linear MCS that later developed strong, surface-based outflow and a trailing stratiform region. This study combines radar observations with mobile and fixed mesonet and sounding data taken during PECAN to analyze the kinematics and thermodynamics of the MCS from 0300 to 0630 UTC. This study is unique in that 38 consecutive multi-Doppler wind analyses are examined over the 3.5 h observation period, facilitating a long-duration analysis of the kinematic evolution of the nocturnal MCS. Radar analyses reveal that the initial convective cells and linear MCS are elevated and sustained by an elevated residual layer formed via weak ascent over the stationary front. During upscale growth, individual convective cells develop storm-scale cold pools due to pockets of descending rear-to-front flow that are measured by mobile mesonets. By 0500 UTC, kinematic analysis and mesonet observations show that the MCS has a surface-based cold pool and that convective line updrafts are ingesting parcels from below the stable layer. In this environment, the elevated system has become surface based since the cold pool lifting is sufficient for surface-based parcels to overcome the CIN associated with the frontal stable layer.

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Bart Geerts, David Parsons, Conrad L. Ziegler, Tammy M. Weckwerth, Michael I. Biggerstaff, Richard D. Clark, Michael C. Coniglio, Belay B. Demoz, Richard A. Ferrare, William A. Gallus Jr., Kevin Haghi, John M. Hanesiak, Petra M. Klein, Kevin R. Knupp, Karen Kosiba, Greg M. McFarquhar, James A. Moore, Amin R. Nehrir, Matthew D. Parker, James O. Pinto, Robert M. Rauber, Russ S. Schumacher, David D. Turner, Qing Wang, Xuguang Wang, Zhien Wang, and Joshua Wurman

Abstract

The central Great Plains region in North America has a nocturnal maximum in warm-season precipitation. Much of this precipitation comes from organized mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). This nocturnal maximum is counterintuitive in the sense that convective activity over the Great Plains is out of phase with the local generation of CAPE by solar heating of the surface. The lower troposphere in this nocturnal environment is typically characterized by a low-level jet (LLJ) just above a stable boundary layer (SBL), and convective available potential energy (CAPE) values that peak above the SBL, resulting in convection that may be elevated, with source air decoupled from the surface. Nocturnal MCS-induced cold pools often trigger undular bores and solitary waves within the SBL. A full understanding of the nocturnal precipitation maximum remains elusive, although it appears that bore-induced lifting and the LLJ may be instrumental to convection initiation and the maintenance of MCSs at night.

To gain insight into nocturnal MCSs, their essential ingredients, and paths toward improving the relatively poor predictive skill of nocturnal convection in weather and climate models, a large, multiagency field campaign called Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) was conducted in 2015. PECAN employed three research aircraft, an unprecedented coordinated array of nine mobile scanning radars, a fixed S-band radar, a unique mesoscale network of lower-tropospheric profiling systems called the PECAN Integrated Sounding Array (PISA), and numerous mobile-mesonet surface weather stations. The rich PECAN dataset is expected to improve our understanding and prediction of continental nocturnal warm-season precipitation. This article provides a summary of the PECAN field experiment and preliminary findings.

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