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Adam L. Houston

Abstract

A physical mechanism based on density current dynamics is proposed to explain the generation of low-level vertical vorticity in supercells. This mechanism may serve as one explanation for the associative relationship between environmental low-level vertical shear and the occurrence of significant tornadoes. The mechanism proposed herein represents an indirect connection to the generation of strong surface-based rotation: the barotropic horizontal vorticity associated with the vertical shear acts to amplify existing rotation but does not directly contribute to surface rotation. The proposed mechanism couples the likelihood of a tornado to the vertical shear through the pattern of vertical motion induced through interaction of a deformed gust front and the environmental vertical shear.

Results from the experiments conducted to test the veracity of the proposed mechanism illustrate that inferred patterns of tilting and vortex line orientation are consistent with the generation of positive vertical vorticity near the axis of the existing mesocyclone and negative vertical vorticity along the rear-flank gust front. Moreover, inferred tilting is found to scale with the magnitude of the environmental vertical shear, consistent with the climatologies that motivate this work. Experiments also reveal that the proposed mechanism is capable of relating boundary deformation, mesocyclone strength, and hodograph shape to the ultimate likelihood of tornadogenesis.

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George L. Limpert
and
Adam L. Houston

ABSTRACT

Ensemble sensitivity analysis (ESA) has been demonstrated for observation targeting of synoptic-scale and mesoscale phenomena, but could have similar applications for storm-scale observations with mobile platforms. This paper demonstrates storm-scale ESA using an idealized supercell simulated with a 101-member CM1 ensemble. Correlation coefficients are used as a measure of sensitivity and are derived from single-variable and multivariable linear regressions of pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind with forecast response variables intended as proxies for the strength of supercells. This approach is suitable for targeting observing platforms that simultaneously measure multiple base-state variables. Although the individual correlations are found to be noisy and difficult to interpret, averaging across small areas of the domain and over the duration of the simulation is found to simplify the analysis. However, it is difficult to identify physically meaningful results from the sensitivity calculations, and evaluation of the results suggests that the overall skill would be low in targeting observations at the storm scale solely based on these sensitivity calculations. The difficulty in applying ESA at the scale of an individual supercell is likely due to applying the linear model to an environment with highly nonlinear dynamics, rapidly changing forecast metrics, and autocorrelation.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Robert B. Wilhelmson

Abstract

The sensitivity of storm longevity to the pattern of deep convection initiation (e.g., multiple, quasi-linearly arranged initial deep convective cells versus an isolated deep convective cell) is examined using idealized cloud-resolving simulations conducted with a low-shear initial environment. When multiple deep convective cells are initialized in close proximity to one another using either a line of thermals or a shallow airmass boundary, long-lived storms are produced. However, when isolated deep convection is initiated, the resultant storm steadily decays following initiation. These results illustrate that a quasi-linear mechanism, such as a preexisting airmass boundary, that initiates multiple deep convective cells in close proximity can lead to longer-lived storms than a mechanism that initiates isolated deep convection.

The essential difference between the experiments conducted is that an isolated initial storm produces a shallower cold pool than when a quasi-linear initiation is used. It is argued that the deep cold pools promote deep forced ascent, systematic convective cell redevelopment, and thus long-lived storms, even in environments with small values of vertical shear. The difference in cold pool depth between the simulations is attributed to differences in the horizontal flux of cold air to the gust front. With a single initial storm, the few convective cells that subsequently form provide only a limited source of cold air, leading to a cold pool that is shallow and incapable of fostering continued updraft redevelopment.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Jason M. Keeler

Abstract

Accurate measurements of the convective inhibition (CIN) associated with capping inversions are critical to forecasts of deep convection initiation. The goal of this work is to determine the sounding characteristics most vulnerable to CIN errors arising from hysteresis associated with sensor response and ascent rate of profiling systems. This examination uses 5058 steady-state analytic soundings prescribed using three free parameters that control inversion depth, static stability, and moisture content. A theoretical well-aspirated first-order sensor mounted on a platform that does not disturb its environment is “flown” in these soundings. Sounding characteristics that result in the largest relative CIN errors are also the characteristics that result in the smallest CIN. Because they are more likely to support deep convection initiation, it is particularly critical that environments with small CIN are represented accurately. The relationship between relative CIN error and CIN exists because sounding characteristics that contribute to large CIN do not proportionally increase the CIN error. Analysis also considers CIN intervals with (operationally important) CIN on the threshold between environments that will and will not support deep convection initiation. For these soundings, CIN error is found to be largest for deep, dry inversions characterized by small static stability.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Dev Niyogi

Abstract

Numerical experiments are conducted using an idealized cloud-resolving model to explore the sensitivity of deep convective initiation (DCI) to the lapse rate of the active cloud-bearing layer [ACBL; the atmospheric layer above the level of free convection (LFC)]. Clouds are initiated using a new technique that involves a preexisting airmass boundary initialized such that the (unrealistic) adjustment of the model state variables to the imposed boundary is disassociated from the simulation of convection. Reference state environments used in the experiment suite have identical mixed layer values of convective inhibition, CAPE, and LFC as well as identical profiles of relative humidity and wind. Of the six simulations conducted for the experiment set, only the three environments with the largest ACBL lapse rates support DCI. The simulated deep convection is initiated from elevated sources (parcels in the convective clouds originate near 1300 m) despite the presence of a surface-based boundary. Thermal instability release is found to be more likely in the experiments with larger ACBL lapse rates because the forced ascent at the preexisting boundary is stronger (despite nearly identical boundary depths) and because the parcels’ LFCs are lower, irrespective of parcel dilution. In one experiment without deep convection, DCI failure occurs even though thermal instability is released. Results from this experiment along with the results from a heuristic Lagrangian model reveal the existence of two convective regimes dependent on the environmental lapse rate: a supercritical state capable of supporting DCI and a subcritical state that is unlikely to support DCI. Under supercritical conditions the rate of increase in buoyancy due to parcel ascent exceeds the reduction in buoyancy due to dilution. Under subcritical conditions, the rate of increase in buoyancy due to parcel ascent is outpaced by the rate of reduction in buoyancy from dilution. Overall, results demonstrate that the lapse rate of the ACBL is useful in diagnosing and/or predicting DCI.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Robert B. Wilhelmson

Abstract

A suite of experiments conducted using a cloud-resolving model is examined to assess the role that preexisting airmass boundaries can play in regulating storm propagation. The 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic event is used to guide these experiments. The environment of this event was characterized by multiple preexisting airmass boundaries, large CAPE, and weak vertical shear.

Only the experiments with preexisting airmass boundaries produce back-building storm propagation (storm motion in opposition to the mean wind). When both the cold front and dryline are present, storm maintenance occurs through the quasi-continuous maintenance of a set of long-lived updrafts and not through discrete updraft redevelopment. Since the cold front is not required for back building, it is clear that back building in this environment does not require quasi-continuous updraft maintenance. The back-building storm simulated with both the cold front and dryline is found to be anchored to the boundary zipper (the intersection of the cold front and dryline). However, multiple preexisting airmass boundaries are not required for back building since experiments with only a dryline also support back building. A conceptual model of back building and boundary zippering is developed that highlights the important role that preexisting boundaries can play in back-building propagation.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Robert B. Wilhelmson

Abstract

A detailed analysis of the 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic storm complex is undertaken in an attempt to document the prestorm environment and identify the roles played by preexisting boundaries on storm maintenance/propagation and rotation. Analysis is carried out using a broad suite of synoptic and subsynoptic data but focuses on the level-II and -III Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) data from three Texas radars. The 27 May 1997 event was characterized by a back-building (propagation against the mean flow) storm complex that produced at least 12 tornadoes including the F5 Jarrell, Texas, tornado. Furthermore, five of the eight longest-lived cells during the analysis period are shown to contain midlevel mesocyclones. However, one-dimensional metrics calculated using representative vertical profiles of state variables reveal that, despite the extreme values of CAPE in place (>6500 J kg−1), the (1D) environment associated with this event is best classified as only marginally favorable for supercells and unfavorable for significant, supercellular tornadoes. Furthermore, the observed wind shear values are shown to be more in line with the vertical shear values typically associated with nonsevere back-building storms. Examples of propagation controlled by quasi-continuous maintenance of a single cell as well as successive discrete cell redevelopment are found. In all situations, two preexisting boundaries in place during this event (a cold front and a dryline) are found to have been necessary for the maintenance/propagation of the storm complex. Specifically, it is argued that the “zippering” of the cold front and dryline (the collision of the dryline and cold front that allowed the cold front to overtake the dryline and penetrate into the most unstable air to the east) was essential for the back-building of the storm complex in this event since it resulted in new cell development at points farther south. While midlevel mesocyclones were present in five of the eight longest-lived and well-sampled cells, analysis of the relationship between observed cell motion, expected cell motion, expected supercellular deviation, and boundary motion for the longest-lived and well-sampled cells reveals little evidence that deviate motions generated through supercellular dynamics governed cell motions. Instead, it is shown that boundary motions largely controlled the propagation of individual cells.

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Adam L. Houston
and
Robert B. Wilhelmson

Abstract

The 27 May 1997 central Texas tornadic event has been investigated in a two-part observational study. As demonstrated in Part I, the 1D environment associated with this event was unfavorable for significant (≥F2) tornadoes. Yet, the storm complex produced at least six significant tornadoes, including one rated F5 (the Jarrell, Texas, tornado). The purpose of this article is to examine the spatiotemporal interrelationships between tornadoes, preexisting boundaries, antecedent low-level mesocyclones, convective cells, and midlevel mesocyclones. It is shown that each of the six observed tornadoes that produced greater than F0 damage formed along the storm-generated gust front, not along preexisting boundaries. Half of these tornadoes formed on the distorted gust front, the portion of the storm-generated gust front whose orientation was deformed largely by the horizontal shear across the cold front. The remaining three tornadoes developed at the gust front cusp (the persistent gust front inflection located at the northeast end of the gust front distortion). Unlike the tornadoes south of the gust front cusp, these tornadoes are found to be associated with antecedent mesocyclones located in the low levels above the boundary layer. Furthermore, these mesocyclonic tornadoes are found to be larger and more destructive than the three nonmesocyclonic tornadoes. The formation of the Jarrell tornado is found to occur as a nearly stationary convective cell became collocated with a south-southwestward-moving low-level mesocyclone near the gust front cusp—a behavior that resembles the formation of nonsupercell tornadoes. It is argued that the back-building propagation/maintenance of the storm complex enabled this juxtaposition of convective cells with vorticity along the distorted gust front and may have therefore enabled tornado formation. Each of the convective cells without midlevel mesocyclones was found to remain farther from the boundaries than the mesocyclonic cells. Since the cells nearest to the boundaries were longer lived than the remaining cells, it is argued that cells near the boundaries were mesocyclonic because the boundaries yielded cells that were more likely to support temporally coherent midlevel rotation.

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Noah A. Lock
and
Adam L. Houston

Abstract

Initiation is the part of the convective life cycle that is currently least understood and least well forecast. The inability to properly forecast the timing and/or location of deep convection initiation degrades forecast skill, especially during the warm season. To gain insight into what atmospheric parameters distinguish areas where storms initiate from areas where they do not initiate, over 55 000 thunderstorm initiation points over the central United States from 2005 to 2007 are found and a number of thermodynamic and kinematic parameters are computed from 20-km Rapid Update Cycle (RUC)-2 data. In addition to the initiation points, data are also collected at nearby locations where thunderstorms did not initiate (null points) for comparison. Thunderstorm identification and tracking are done using several tools within the Warning Decision Support Services–Integrated Information (WDSS-II) package and a thunderstorm tracking algorithm called Thunderstorm Observation by Radar (ThOR). The parameters being examined are intended to represent the four main factors governing the behavior of convection: buoyancy, dilution, lift, and inhibition. Statistical analysis of the data shows that there is no threshold of any single parameter that is consistently able to discriminate between initiation and noninitiation. However, case-by-case comparison of the values showed that lift is most often the factor that distinguishes the thunderstorm initiation environment from other areas.

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Wolfgang Hanft
and
Adam L. Houston

Abstract

Typically, the cool side of an airmass boundary is stable to vertical motions due to its associated negative buoyancy. However, under certain conditions, the air on the cool side of the boundary can undergo a transition wherein it assumes an equivalent potential temperature and surface-based convective available potential energy that are higher than those of the air mass on the warm side of the boundary. The resultant air mass is herein referred to as a mesoscale air mass with high theta-e (MAHTE). Results are presented from an observational and mesoscale modeling study designed to examine MAHTE characteristics and the processes responsible for MAHTE formation and evolution. Observational analysis focuses on near-surface observations of an MAHTE in northwestern Kansas on 20 June 2016 collected with a Combined Mesonet and Tracker. The highest equivalent potential temperature is found to be 15–20 K higher than what was observed in the warm sector and located 2–5 km on the cool side of the boundary. This case was also modeled using WRF-ARW to examine the processes involved in MAHTE formation that could not be inferred through observations alone. Model analysis indicates that differential vertical advection of equivalent potential temperature across the boundary is important for simulated MAHTE formation. Specifically, deeper vertical mixing/advection in the warm sector reduces moisture (equivalent potential temperature), while vertical motion/mixing is suppressed on the cool side of the boundary, thereby allowing largely unmitigated insolation-driven increases in equivalent potential temperature. Model analysis also suggests that surface moisture fluxes were unimportant in simulated MAHTE formation.

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