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Zhe Feng
Robert A. Houze Jr.
L. Ruby Leung
Fengfei Song
Joseph C. Hardin
Jingyu Wang
William I. Gustafson Jr.
, and
Cameron R. Homeyer


The spatiotemporal variability and three-dimensional structures of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) east of the U.S. Rocky Mountains and their large-scale environments are characterized across all seasons using 13 years of high-resolution radar and satellite observations. Long-lived and intense MCSs account for over 50% of warm season precipitation in the Great Plains and over 40% of cold season precipitation in the southeast. The Great Plains has the strongest MCS seasonal cycle peaking in May–June, whereas in the U.S. southeast MCSs occur year-round. Distinctly different large-scale environments across the seasons have significant impacts on the structure of MCSs. Spring and fall MCSs commonly initiate under strong baroclinic forcing and favorable thermodynamic environments. MCS genesis frequently occurs in the Great Plains near sunset, although convection is not always surface based. Spring MCSs feature both large and deep convection, with a large stratiform rain area and high volume of rainfall. In contrast, summer MCSs often initiate under weak baroclinic forcing, featuring a high pressure ridge with weak low-level convergence acting on the warm, humid air associated with the low-level jet. MCS genesis concentrates east of the Rocky Mountain Front Range and near the southeast coast in the afternoon. The strongest MCS diurnal cycle amplitude extends from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Summer MCSs have the largest and deepest convective features, the smallest stratiform rain area, and the lowest rainfall volume. Last, winter MCSs are characterized by the strongest baroclinic forcing and the largest MCS precipitation features over the southeast. Implications of the findings for climate modeling are discussed.

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