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Neil M. Taylor
David M. L. Sills
John M. Hanesiak
Jason A. Milbrandt
Craig D. Smith
Geoff S. Strong
Susan H. Skone
Patrick J. McCarthy
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Julian C. Brimelow

Severe thunderstorms are a common occurrence in summer on the Canadian prairies, with a large number originating along the Alberta, Canada, foothills, just east of the Rocky Mountains. Most of these storms move eastward to affect the Edmonton–Calgary corridor, one of the most densely populated and fastest-growing regions in Canada. Previous studies in the United States, Europe, and Canada have stressed the importance of mesoscale features in thunderstorm development. However, such processes cannot be adequately resolved using operational observation networks in many parts of Canada. Current conceptual models for severe storm outbreaks in Alberta were developed almost 20 years ago and do not focus explicitly on mesoscale boundaries that are now known to be important for thunderstorm development.

The Understanding Severe Thunderstorms and Alber ta Boundary Layers Experiment (UNSTABLE) is a field and modeling study aiming to improve our understanding of the processes associated with the initiation of severe thunderstorms, to refine associated conceptual models, and to assess the ability of convectivescale NWP models to simulate relevant physical processes. As part of UNSTABLE in 2008, Environment Canada and university scientists conducted a pilot field experiment over the Alberta foothills to investigate mesoscale processes associated with the development of severe thunderstorms. Networks of fixed and mobile surface and upper-air instrumentation provided observations of the atmospheric boundary layer at a level of detail never before seen in this region. Preliminary results include the most complete documentation of a dryline in Canada and an analysis of variability in boundary layer evolution across adjacent forest and crop vegetation areas. Convective-scale NWP simulations suggest that although additional information on convective mode may be provided, there is limited benefit overall to downscaling to smaller grid spacing without assimilation of mesoscale observations.

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