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Michael C. Coniglio, Stacey M. Hitchcock, and Kent H. Knopfmeier

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This study examines the impact of assimilating preconvective radiosonde observations obtained by mobile sounding systems on short-term forecasts of convection. Ensemble data assimilation is performed on a mesoscale (15 km) grid and the resulting analyses are downscaled to produce forecasts on a convection-permitting grid (3 km). The ensembles of forecasts are evaluated through their depiction of radar reflectivity compared to observed radar reflectivity. Examination of fractions skill scores over eight cases shows that, for four of the cases, assimilation of radiosonde observations nearby to subsequent convection has a positive impact on the initiation and early evolution during the first 3–4 h of the forecasts, even for the smallest resolvable scales of the 3-km grid. For the four cases in which positive impacts near the smallest resolvable scales of the grid are not seen, analysis of the changes to the preconvective environment suggests that suboptimal locations of the soundings compared to the location of convective initiation are to blame. The aggregate positive impacts on forecasts of convection is more clearly seen when spatial scales larger than individual thunderstorms are examined.

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Stacey M. Hitchcock, Michael C. Coniglio, and Kent H. Knopfmeier

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This study examines the impact of assimilating three radiosonde profiles obtained from ground-based mobile systems during the Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX) on analyses and convection-permitting model forecasts of the 31 May 2013 convective event over Oklahoma. These radiosonde profiles (in addition to standard observations) are assimilated into a 36-member mesoscale ensemble using an ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) before embedding a convection-permitting (3 km) grid and running a full ensemble of 9-h forecasts. This set of 3-km forecasts is compared to a control run that does not assimilate the MPEX soundings. The analysis of low- to midlevel moisture is impacted the most by the assimilation, but coherent mesoscale differences in temperature and wind are also seen, primarily downstream of the location of the soundings. The ensemble of forecasts of convection on the 3-km grid are improved the most in the first three hours of the forecast in a region where the analyzed position of low-level frontal convergence and midlevel moisture was improved on the mesoscale grid. Later forecasts of the upscale growth of intense convection over central Oklahoma are improved somewhat, but larger ensemble spread lowers confidence in the significance of the improvements. Changes in the horizontal localization radius from the standard value applied to the MPEX sounding assimilation alters the specific times that the forecasts are improved in the first three hours of the forecasts, while changes to the vertical localization radius and specified temperature and wind observation error result in little to no improvements in the forecasts.

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Michael C. Coniglio, David J. Stensrud, and Louis J. Wicker

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Recent observational studies have shown that strong midlatitude mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) tend to decay as they move into environments with less instability and smaller deep-layer vertical wind shear. These observed shear profiles that contain significant upper-level shear are often different from the shear profiles considered to be the most favorable for the maintenance of strong, long-lived convective systems in some past idealized simulations. Thus, to explore the role of upper-level shear in strong MCS environments, a set of two-dimensional (2D) simulations of density currents within a dry, statically neutral environment is used to quantify the dependence of lifting along an idealized cold pool on the upper-level shear. A set of three-dimensional (3D) simulations of MCSs is produced to gauge the effects of the upper-level shear in a more realistic framework.

Results from the 2D experiments show that the addition of upper-level shear to a wind profile with weak to moderate low-level shear increases the vertical displacement of parcels despite a decrease in the vertical velocity along the cold pool interface. Parcels that are elevated above the surface (1–2 km) overturn and are responsible for the deep lifting in the deep-shear environments, while the surface-based parcels typically are lifted through the cold pool region in a rearward-sloping path. This deep overturning helps to maintain the leading convection and greatly increases the size and total precipitation output of the convective systems in more complex 3D simulations, even in the presence of 3D structures. These results show that the shear profile throughout the entire troposphere must be considered to gain a more complete understanding of the structure and maintenance of strong midlatitude MCSs.

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Nicholas A. Engerer, David J. Stensrud, and Michael C. Coniglio

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Cold pools are a key element in the organization of precipitating convective systems, yet knowledge of their typical surface characteristics is largely anecdotal. To help to alleviate this situation, cold pools from 39 mesoscale convective system (MCS) events are sampled using Oklahoma Mesonet surface observations. In total, 1389 time series of surface observations are used to determine typical rises in surface pressure and decreases in temperature, potential temperature, and equivalent potential temperature associated with the cold pool, and the maximum wind speeds in the cold pool. The data are separated into one of four convective system life cycle stages: first storms, MCS initiation, mature MCS, and MCS dissipation. Results indicate that the mean surface pressure rises associated with cold pools increase from 3.2 hPa for the first storms’ life cycle stage to 4.5 hPa for the mature MCS stage before dropping to 3.3 hPa for the dissipation stage. In contrast, the mean temperature (potential temperature) deficits associated with cold pools decrease from 9.5 (9.8) to 5.4 K (5.6 K) from the first storms to the dissipation stage, with a decrease of approximately 1 K associated with each advance in the life cycle stage. However, the daytime and early evening observations show mean temperature deficits over 11 K. A comparison of these observed cold pool characteristics with results from idealized numerical simulations of MCSs suggests that observed cold pools likely are stronger than those found in model simulations, particularly when ice processes are neglected in the microphysics parameterization. The mean deficits in equivalent potential temperature also decrease with the MCS life cycle stage, starting at 21.6 K for first storms and dropping to 13.9 K for dissipation. Mean wind gusts are above 15 m s−1 for all life cycle stages. These results should help numerical modelers to determine whether the cold pools in high-resolution models are in reasonable agreement with the observed characteristics found herein. Thunderstorm simulations and forecasts with thin model layers near the surface are also needed to obtain better representations of cold pool surface characteristics that can be compared with observations.

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Michael C. Coniglio, Stephen F. Corfidi, and John S. Kain

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This study documents the complex environment and early evolution of the remarkable derecho that traversed portions of the central United States on 8 May 2009. Central to this study is the comparison of the 8 May 2009 derecho environment to that of other mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) that occurred in the central United States during a similar time of year. Synoptic-scale forcing was weak and thermodynamic instability was limited during the development of the initial convection, but several mesoscale features of the environment appeared to contribute to initiation and upscale growth, including a mountain wave, a midlevel jet streak, a weak midlevel vorticity maximum, a ““Denver cyclone,”” and a region of upper-tropospheric inertial instability.

The subsequent MCS developed in an environment with an unusually strong and deep low-level jet (LLJ), which transported exceptionally high amounts of low-level moisture northward very rapidly, destabilized the lower troposphere, and enhanced frontogenetical circulations that appeared to aid convective development. The thermodynamic environment ahead of the developing MCS contained unusually high precipitable water (PW) and very large midtropospheric lapse rates, compared to other central plains MCSs. Values of downdraft convective available potential energy (DCAPE), mean winds, and 0––6-km vertical wind shear were not as anomalously large as the PW, lapse rates, and LLJ. In fact, the DCAPE values were lower than the mean values in the comparison dataset. These results suggest that the factors contributing to updraft strength over a relatively confined area played a significant role in generating the strong outflow winds at the surface, by providing a large volume of hydrometeors to drive the downdrafts.

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Michael C. Coniglio, Stephen F. Corfidi, and John S. Kain

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This work presents an analysis of the vertical wind shear during the early stages of the remarkable 8 May 2009 central U.S. derecho-producing convective system. Comments on applying Rotunno–Klemp–Weisman (RKW) theory to mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) of this type also are provided. During the formative stages of the MCS, the near-surface-based shear vectors ahead of the leading convective line varied with time, location, and depth, but the line-normal component of the shear in any layer below 3 km ahead of where the strong bow echo developed was relatively small (6–9 m s−1). Concurrently, the midlevel (3–6 km) line-normal shear component had magnitudes mostly >10 m s−1 throughout.

In a previous companion paper, it was hypothesized that an unusually strong and expansive low-level jet led to dramatic changes in instability, shear, and forced ascent over mesoscale areas. These mesoscale effects may have overwhelmed the interactions between the cold pool and low-level shear that modulate system structure in less complex environments. If cold pool–shear interactions were critical to producing such a strong system, then the extension of the line-normal shear above 3 km also appeared to be critical. It is suggested that RKW theory be applied with much caution, and that examining the shear above 3 km is important, if one wishes to explain the formation and maintenance of intense long-lived convective systems, particularly complex nocturnal systems like the one that occurred on 8 May 2009.

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Matthew D. Flournoy, Michael C. Coniglio, Erik N. Rasmussen, Jason C. Furtado, and Brice E. Coffer

Abstract

Some supercellular tornado outbreaks are composed almost entirely of tornadic supercells, while most consist of both tornadic and nontornadic supercells sometimes in close proximity to each other. These differences are related to a balance between larger-scale environmental influences on storm development as well as more chaotic, internal evolution. For example, some environments may be potent enough to support tornadic supercells even if less predictable intrastorm characteristics are suboptimal for tornadogenesis, while less potent environments are supportive of tornadic supercells given optimal intrastorm characteristics. This study addresses the sensitivity of tornadogenesis to both environmental characteristics and storm-scale features using a cloud modeling approach. Two high-resolution ensembles of simulated supercells are produced in the near- and far-field environments observed in the inflow of tornadic supercells during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2). All simulated supercells evolving in the near-field environment produce a tornado, and 33% of supercells evolving in the far-field environment produce a tornado. Composite differences between the two ensembles are shown to address storm-scale characteristics and processes impacting the volatility of tornadogenesis. Storm-scale variability in the ensembles is illustrated using empirical orthogonal function analysis, revealing storm-generated boundaries that may be linked to the volatility of tornadogenesis. Updrafts in the near-field ensemble are markedly stronger than those in the far-field ensemble during the time period in which the ensembles most differ in terms of tornado production. These results suggest that storm-environment modifications can influence the volatility of supercellular tornadogenesis.

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David J. Stensrud, Michael C. Coniglio, Robert P. Davies-Jones, and Jeffry S. Evans
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Derek R. Stratman, Michael C. Coniglio, Steven E. Koch, and Ming Xue

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This study uses both traditional and newer verification methods to evaluate two 4-km grid-spacing Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) forecasts: a “cold start” forecast that uses the 12-km North American Mesoscale Model (NAM) analysis and forecast cycle to derive the initial and boundary conditions (C0) and a “hot start” forecast that adds radar data into the initial conditions using a three-dimensional variational data assimilation (3DVAR)/cloud analysis technique (CN). These forecasts were evaluated as part of 2009 and 2010 NOAA Hazardous Weather Test Bed (HWT) Spring Forecasting Experiments. The Spring Forecasting Experiment participants noted that the skill of CN’s explicit forecasts of convection estimated by some traditional objective metrics often seemed large compared to the subjectively determined skill. The Gilbert skill score (GSS) reveals CN scores higher than C0 at lower thresholds likely due to CN having higher-frequency biases than C0, but the difference is negligible at higher thresholds, where CN’s and C0’s frequency biases are similar. This suggests that if traditional skill scores are used to quantify convective forecasts, then higher (>35 dBZ) reflectivity thresholds should be used to be consistent with expert’s subjective assessments of the lack of forecast skill for individual convective cells. The spatial verification methods show that both CN and C0 generally have little to no skill at scales <8–12Δx starting at forecast hour 1, but CN has more skill at larger spatial scales (40–320 km) than C0 for the majority of the forecasting period. This indicates that the hot start provides little to no benefit for forecasts of convective cells, but that it has some benefit for larger mesoscale precipitation systems.

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Ariel E. Cohen, Steven M. Cavallo, Michael C. Coniglio, and Harold E. Brooks

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The representation of turbulent mixing within the lower troposphere is needed to accurately portray the vertical thermodynamic and kinematic profiles of the atmosphere in mesoscale model forecasts. For mesoscale models, turbulence is mostly a subgrid-scale process, but its presence in the planetary boundary layer (PBL) can directly modulate a simulation’s depiction of mass fields relevant for forecast problems. The primary goal of this work is to review the various parameterization schemes that the Weather Research and Forecasting Model employs in its depiction of turbulent mixing (PBL schemes) in general, and is followed by an application to a severe weather environment. Each scheme represents mixing on a local and/or nonlocal basis. Local schemes only consider immediately adjacent vertical levels in the model, whereas nonlocal schemes can consider a deeper layer covering multiple levels in representing the effects of vertical mixing through the PBL. As an application, a pair of cold season severe weather events that occurred in the southeastern United States are examined. Such cases highlight the ambiguities of classically defined PBL schemes in a cold season severe weather environment, though characteristics of the PBL schemes are apparent in this case. Low-level lapse rates and storm-relative helicity are typically steeper and slightly smaller for nonlocal than local schemes, respectively. Nonlocal mixing is necessary to more accurately forecast the lower-tropospheric lapse rates within the warm sector of these events. While all schemes yield overestimations of mixed-layer convective available potential energy (MLCAPE), nonlocal schemes more strongly overestimate MLCAPE than do local schemes.

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