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Cristian Muñoz and David M. Schultz

Abstract

A study of 500-hPa cutoff lows in central Chile during 1979–2017 was conducted to contrast cutoff lows associated with the lowest quartile of daily precipitation amounts (LOW25) with cutoff lows associated with the highest quartile (HIGH25). To understand the differences between low- and high-precipitation cutoff lows, daily precipitation records, radiosonde observations, and reanalyses were used to analyze the three ingredients necessary for deep moist convection (instability, lift, and moisture) at the eastern and equatorial edge of these lows. Instability was generally small, if any, and showed no major differences between LOW25 and HIGH25 events. Synoptic-scale ascent associated with Q-vector convergence also showed little difference between LOW25 and HIGH25 events. In contrast, the moisture distribution around LOW25 and HIGH25 cutoff lows was different, with a moisture plume that was more defined and more intense equatorward of HIGH25 cutoff lows as compared with LOW25 cutoff lows where the moisture plume occurred poleward of the cutoff low. The presence of the moisture plume equatorward of HIGH25 cutoff lows may have contributed to the shorter persistence of HIGH25 events by providing a source for latent-heat release when the moisture plume reached the windward side of the Andes. Indeed, whereas 48% of LOW25 cutoff lows persisted for longer than 72 h, only 25% of HIGH25 cutoff lows did, despite both systems occurring mostly during the rainy season (May–September). The occurrence of an equatorial moisture plume on the eastern and equatorial edge of cutoff lows is fairly common during high-impact precipitation events, and this mechanism could help to explain high-impact precipitation where the occurrence of cutoff lows and moisture plumes is frequent.

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Carl M. Thomas and David M. Schultz

Abstract

Fronts can be computed from gridded datasets such as numerical model output and reanalyses, resulting in automated surface frontal charts and climatologies. Defining automated fronts requires quantities (e.g., potential temperature, equivalent potential temperature, wind shifts) and kinematic functions (e.g., gradient, thermal front parameter, and frontogenesis). Which are the most appropriate to use in different applications remains an open question. This question is investigated using two quantities (potential temperature and equivalent potential temperature) and three functions (magnitude of the horizontal gradient, thermal front parameter, and frontogenesis) from both the context of real-time surface analysis and climatologies from 38 years of reanalyses. The strengths of potential temperature to identify fronts are that it represents the thermal gradients and its direct association with the kinematics and dynamics of fronts. Although climatologies using potential temperature show features associated with extratropical cyclones in the storm tracks, climatologies using equivalent potential temperature include moisture gradients within air masses, most notably at low latitudes that are unrelated to the traditional definition of a front, but may be representative of a broader definition of an airmass boundary. These results help to explain previously published frontal climatologies featuring maxima of fronts in the subtropics and tropics. The best function depends upon the purpose of the analysis, but Petterssen frontogenesis is attractive, both for real-time analysis and long-term climatologies, in part because of its link to the kinematics and dynamics of fronts. Finally, this study challenges the conventional definition of a front as an airmass boundary and suggests that a new, dynamically based definition would be useful for some applications.

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David M. Schultz and Joseph M. Sienkiewicz

Abstract

Sting jets, or surface wind maxima at the end of bent-back fronts in Shapiro–Keyser cyclones, are one cause of strong winds in extratropical cyclones. Although previous studies identified the release of conditional symmetric instability as a cause of sting jets, the mechanism to initiate its release remains unidentified. To identify this mechanism, a case study was selected of an intense cyclone over the North Atlantic Ocean during 7–8 December 2005 that possessed a sting jet detected from the NASA Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT). A couplet of Petterssen frontogenesis and frontolysis occurred along the bent-back front. The direct circulation associated with the frontogenesis led to ascent within the cyclonically turning portion of the warm conveyor belt, contributing to the comma-cloud head. When the bent-back front became frontolytic, an indirect circulation associated with the frontolysis, in conjunction with alongfront cold advection, led to descent within and on the warm side of the front, bringing higher-momentum air down toward the boundary layer. Sensible heat fluxes from the ocean surface and cold-air advection destabilized the boundary layer, resulting in near-neutral static stability facilitating downward mixing. Thus, descent associated with the frontolysis reaching a near-neutral boundary layer provides a physical mechanism for sting jets, is consistent with previous studies, and synthesizes existing knowledge. Specifically, this couplet of frontogenesis and frontolysis could explain why sting jets occur at the end of the bent-back front and emerge from the cloud head, why sting jets are mesoscale phenomena, and why they only occur within Shapiro–Keyser cyclones. A larger dataset of cases is necessary to test this hypothesis.

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Carl M. Thomas and David M. Schultz

Abstract

Climatologies of fronts, airmass boundaries, and airstream boundaries can be calculated using automated approaches on gridded data. Such approaches may require choices to define a front, including a quantity (or quantities) to diagnose the front, a mathematical function(s) that operates upon the quantity to produce a diagnostic field, a level(s) at which the field is calculated, and a minimum threshold(s) in the magnitude of the field. To understand how resulting climatologies depend upon these choices using a consistent dataset, ERA-Interim reanalyses from 1979 to 2016 are used to construct global monthly climatologies for various definitions of fronts and airstream boundaries from potential temperature, equivalent potential temperature, water vapor mixing ratio, and wind, including gradients, thermal front parameter, frontogenesis, and asymptotic contraction rate at the surface and 850 hPa. Maps of automated fronts are similar to manual analyses when about 10% of the map is identified as a front. Definitions of fronts that use potential temperature or frontogenesis produce climatologies similar to those of manually analyzed fronts with maxima along the major storm tracks and their seasonal migrations. In contrast, definitions that use equivalent potential temperature or the thermal front parameter produce fewer fronts at higher latitudes and more fronts at lower latitudes, more akin to airmass boundaries than fronts. Although surface fronts defined by thermodynamic quantities are more infrequent over the oceans than at 850 hPa, they are more frequent when using metrics that include the wind field (e.g., frontogenesis, asymptotic contraction rate).

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Robert A. Cohen and David M. Schultz
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John W. Nielsen-Gammon and David M. Schultz

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David M. Schultz and Paul J. Roebber

Abstract

Over 50 yr have passed since the publication of Sanders' 1955 study, the first quantitative study of the structure and dynamics of a surface cold front. The purpose of this chapter is to reexamine some of the results of that study in light of modern methods of numerical weather prediction and diagnosis. A simulation with a resolution as high as 6-km horizontal grid spacing was performed with the fifth-generation-Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU-NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), given initial and lateral boundary conditions from the National Centers for Environmental Precipitation-National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP-NCAR) reanalysis project data from 17 to 18 April 1953. The MM5 produced a reasonable simulation af the front, albeit its strength was not as intense and its movement was not as fast as was analyzed by Sanders. The vertical structure of the front differed from that analyzed by Sanders in several significant ways. First, the strongest horizontal temperature gradient associated with the cold front in the simulation occurred above a surface-based inversion, not at the earth's surface. Second, the ascent plume at the leading edge of the front was deeper and more intense than that analyzed by Sanders. The reason was an elevated mixed layer that had moved over the surface cold front in the simulation, allowing a much deeper vertical circulation than was analyzed by Sanders. This structure is similar to that of Australian cold fronts with their deep, well-mixed, prefrontal surface layer. These two differences between the model simulation and the analysis by Sanders may be because upper-air data from Fort Worth, Texas, was unavailable to Sanders. Third, the elevated mixed layer also meant that isentropes along the leading edge of the front extended vertically. Fourth, the field of frontogenesis of the horizontal temperature gradient calculated from the three-dimensional wind differed in that the magnitude of the maximum of the deformation term was larger than the magnitude of the maximum of the tilting term in the simulation, in contrast to Sanders' analysis and other previously published cases. These two discrepancies may be attributable to the limited horizontal resolution of the data that Sanders used in constructing his cross section. Last, a deficiency of the model simulation was that the postfrontal surface superadiabatic layer in the model did not match the observed well-mixed boundary layer. This result raises the question of the origin of the well-mixed postfrontal boundary layer behind cold fronts. To address this question, an additional model simulation without surface fluxes was performed, producing a well-mixed, not superadiabatic, layer. This result suggests that surface fluxes were not necessary for the development of the well-mixed layer, in agreement with previous research. Analysis of this event also amplifies two research themes that Sanders returned to later in his career, First, a prefrontal wind shift occurred in both the observations and model simulation at stations in western Oklahoma. This prefrontal wind shift was caused by a lee cyclone departing the leeward slopes of the Rockies slightly equatorward of the cold front, rather than along the front as was the case farther eastward. Sanders' later research showed how the occurrence of these prefrontal wind shifts leads to the weakening of fronts. Second, this study shows the advantage of using surface potential temperature, rather than surface temperature, for determining the locations of the surface fronts on sloping terrain.

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Ty J. Buckingham and David M. Schultz

Abstract

Nine tornado outbreaks (days with three or more tornadoes) have occurred in the United Kingdom from quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) in the 16 years between 2004 and 2019. Of the nine outbreaks, eight can be classified into two synoptic categories: type 1 and type 2. Synoptic categories are derived from the location of the parent extratropical cyclone and the orientation of the surface front associated with the QLCS. Environmental differences between the categories are assessed using ERA5 reanalysis data. Type 1 events are characterized by a confluent 500-hPa trough from the west, meridional cold front, strong cross-frontal wind veer (about 90°), cross-frontal temperature decrease of 2°–4°C, prefrontal 2-m dewpoint temperatures of 12°–14°C, a prefrontal low-level jet, and prefrontal 0–1- and 0–3-km bulk shears of 15 and 25 m s−1, respectively. In contrast, type 2 events are characterized by a diffluent 500-hPa trough from the northwest, zonal front, weaker cross-frontal wind veer (≤45°), much smaller cross-frontal temperature decrease, lower prefrontal 2-m dewpoint temperatures of 6°–10°C, and weaker prefrontal 0–1- and 0–3-km bulk shears of 10 and 15 m s−1, respectively. Analysis of the Met Office radar reflectivity mosaics revealed that narrow cold-frontal rainbands developed in all type 1 events and subsequently displayed precipitation core-and-gap structures. Conversely, type 2 events did not develop narrow cold-frontal rainbands, although precipitation cores developed sporadically within the wide cold-frontal rainband. Type 1 events produced tornadoes 2–4 h after core-and-gap development, whereas type 2 events produced tornadoes within 1 h of forming cores and gaps. All events produced tornadoes during a relatively short time period (1–3 h).

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David M. Schultz and Charles A. Doswell III

Abstract

Since numerical forecast models often err in predicting the timing and location of lee cyclogenesis, a physically based method to diagnose such errors is sought. A case of Rocky Mountain lee cyclogenesis associated with strong winds is examined to explore the transformation from a stationary lee trough to a mobile midlatitude cyclone (hereafter, departure). Up to 12 h before departure, a pronounced surface pressure trough travels eastward across western North America at an average speed of 22 m s−1. Several methods are employed to examine the structure and evolution of the pressure field: total sea level pressure, time series at individual stations, isallobars, and bandpass filtering. Bandpass filtering of the observed sea level pressure data is useful for clarifying the movement of the mobile trough through the complex terrain. Quasigeostrophic height-tendency diagnostics show that the mobile pressure trough is related to the traveling mid- to upper-tropospheric vorticity maximum that is responsible for departure. At many stations, surface temperature changes associated with this pressure trough are not consistent with those commonly associated with surface frontal passages. To test the hypothesis that mobile pressure troughs are associated with departure, a five-winter climatology of 111 southern Alberta lee cyclones is constructed. Sixty-two percent of these events feature an upstream pressure minimum 3–9 h prior to departure, in a manner resembling the case study. Seventy-six percent of these 111 events are associated with reports listed in Storm Data, indicating the potential severity of these storms.

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Peter C. Banacos and David M. Schultz

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Moisture flux convergence (MFC) is a term in the conservation of water vapor equation and was first calculated in the 1950s and 1960s as a vertically integrated quantity to predict rainfall associated with synoptic-scale systems. Vertically integrated MFC was also incorporated into the Kuo cumulus parameterization scheme for the Tropics. MFC was eventually suggested for use in forecasting convective initiation in the midlatitudes in 1970, but practical MFC usage quickly evolved to include only surface data, owing to the higher spatial and temporal resolution of surface observations. Since then, surface MFC has been widely applied as a short-term (0–3 h) prognostic quantity for forecasting convective initiation, with an emphasis on determining the favorable spatial location(s) for such development.

A scale analysis shows that surface MFC is directly proportional to the horizontal mass convergence field, allowing MFC to be highly effective in highlighting mesoscale boundaries between different air masses near the earth’s surface that can be resolved by surface data and appropriate grid spacing in gridded analyses and numerical models. However, the effectiveness of boundaries in generating deep moist convection is influenced by many factors, including the depth of the vertical circulation along the boundary and the presence of convective available potential energy (CAPE) and convective inhibition (CIN) near the boundary. Moreover, lower- and upper-tropospheric jets, frontogenesis, and other forcing mechanisms may produce horizontal mass convergence above the surface, providing the necessary lift to bring elevated parcels to their level of free convection without connection to the boundary layer. Case examples elucidate these points as a context for applying horizontal mass convergence for convective initiation. Because horizontal mass convergence is a more appropriate diagnostic in an ingredients-based methodology for forecasting convective initiation, its use is recommended over MFC.

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