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Casey E. Davenport and Matthew D. Parker

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On 9 June 2009, the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) captured a unique dataset of dense observations throughout the lifetime of an isolated supercell, including its demise. This event provides a rare opportunity to explore the conditions and processes associated with supercell demise, as well as add to our understanding of supercell maintenance within the context of storm–environment interactions. The target storm on 9 June formed just to the cool side of a quasi-stationary boundary and initially exhibited strong low-level rotation. Over time, however, the storm moved deeper into the cool air and completely dissipated. Three near-inflow soundings launched over the lifetime of the supercell illustrated an increase in low-level convective inhibition (CIN) over time. However, an elevated layer containing sufficient instability and modest inhibition was also present, suggesting an unrealized potential for elevated convection. The near-storm environment also demonstrated a notable decrease in bulk vertical wind shear and storm-relative helicity over the lifetime of the storm. Although the likely impact of an increasingly stable near-storm environment is seemingly straightforward, the extent to which the evolving wind profile influenced storm dissipation is less certain. Dual-Doppler wind syntheses suggest decreases in the production of updraft vertical vorticity via tilting and stretching, indicating that the storm demise may have resulted from a complicated interplay between stabilization and changing environmental shear.

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Casey E. Letkewicz and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

Forecasting the maintenance of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) is a unique problem in the eastern United States due to the influence of the Appalachian Mountains. At times these systems are able to traverse the terrain and produce severe weather in the lee, while at other times they instead dissipate upon encountering the mountains. To differentiate between crossing and noncrossing MCS environments, 20 crossing and 20 noncrossing MCS cases were examined. The cases were largely similar in terms of their 500-hPa patterns, MCS archetypes, and orientations with respect to the barrier. Analysis of radiosonde data, however, revealed that the environment east of the mountains discriminated between case types very well. The thermodynamic and kinematic variables that had the most discriminatory power included those associated with instability, several different bulk shear vector magnitudes, and also the mean tropospheric wind. Crossing cases were characterized by higher instability, which was found to be partially attributable to the diurnal cycle. However, these cases also tended to occur in environments with weaker shear and a smaller mean wind. The potential reasons for these results, and their forecasting implications, are discussed.

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Brice E. Coffer and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

Previous work has suggested that the lower-tropospheric wind profile may partly determine whether supercells become tornadic. If tornadogenesis within the VORTEX2 composite environments is more sensitive to the lower-tropospheric winds than to either the upper-tropospheric winds or the thermodynamic profile, then systematically varying the lower-tropospheric wind profile might reveal a “tipping point” between nontornadic and tornadic supercells. As a test, simulated supercells are initiated in environments that have been gradually interpolated between the low-level wind profiles of the nontornadic and tornadic VORTEX2 supercell composites while also interchanging the upper-tropospheric winds and thermodynamic profile. Simulated supercells become tornadic when the low-level wind profile incorporates at least 40% of the structure from the tornadic VORTEX2 composite environment. Both the nontornadic and tornadic storms have similar outflow temperatures and availability of surface vertical vorticity near their updrafts. Most distinctly, a robust low-level mesocyclone and updraft immediately overlie the intensifying near-surface circulation in each of the tornadic supercells. The nontornadic supercells have low-level updrafts that are disorganized, with pockets of descent throughout the region where surface vertical vorticity resides. The lower-tropospheric wind profile drives these distinct configurations of the low-level mesocyclone and updraft, regardless of the VORTEX2 composite upper-tropospheric wind profile or thermodynamic profile. This study therefore supports a potentially useful, robust link between the probability of supercell tornadogenesis and the lower-tropospheric wind profile, with tornadogenesis more (less) likely when the orientation of horizontal vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters is streamwise (crosswise).

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Casey E. Davenport and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

On 9 June 2009, the Second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) sampled a supercell as it traversed through an increasingly stable environment with decreasing bulk shear and storm-relative helicity. To investigate the impacts of the observed environmental heterogeneity on storm morphology, a series of idealized simulations were conducted. Utilizing the base-state substitution modeling technique, the separate effects of the changing wind profile and the increasingly stable boundary layer were evaluated. The varying base-state environment in each experiment elevated the mean source region of updraft parcels. These elevated parcels were drier (with less instability), and more negatively impacted by entrainment. Thus, as the updraft ingested a larger fraction of elevated parcels, its buoyancy was depleted, leading to demise. Unsurprisingly, the increasingly stable low-level environment played a dominant role in this process; however, wind profile modifications also elevated the mean source region of updraft parcels, which independently impacted storm strength and morphology. Changes to the storm’s internal dynamical processes were assessed using the diagnostic pressure equation. The evolution in total vertical acceleration was primarily related to changes in accelerations that were connected to updraft rotation, as well as shifts in buoyancy. The dynamical accelerations weakened and became maximized at a different altitude, resulting in an increasingly elevated updraft parcel source region. Overall, this study finds that a shifting updraft parcel source region can significantly impact storm maintenance; importantly, such a shift can result from changes in environmental temperature, moisture, or wind profiles.

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Casey E. Letkewicz and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

The complex evolution of convective systems crossing (or attempting to cross) mountainous terrain represents a substantial forecasting challenge. This study examines the processes associated with environments of “crossing” squall lines (which were able to redevelop strong convection in the lee of a mountain barrier) and “noncrossing” squall lines (which were not able to redevelop strong convection downstream of the barrier). In particular, numerical simulations of mature convective systems crossing idealized terrain roughly approximating the Appalachian Mountains were used to test the first-order impact of variations in the vertical wind profile upon system maintenance.

By itself, the wind profile showed no ability to uniquely discriminate between simulated crossing and noncrossing squall lines; each test revealed a similar pattern of orographic enhancement, suppression, and lee reinvigoration in which a hydraulic jump deepened the system’s cold pool and renewed the low-level lifting. Increasing the mean wind led to greater enhancement of vertical velocities on the windward side of the barrier and greater suppression on the lee side. Variations in the low-level shear influenced the temperature and depth of the outflow, which in turn altered the lifting along the system’s gust front. However, in all of the wind profile tests, convection redeveloped in the lee. Additional simulations explored more marginal environments in which idealized low-level cooling or drying stabilized the downstream environment. In most such tests, the systems weakened but the presence of CAPE aloft still enabled the systems to survive in the lee. However, the combination of a stronger mean wind with diminished CAPE and increased convective inhibition (CIN) was ultimately found to eliminate downstream redevelopment and produce a noncrossing mesoscale convective system (MCS). Within these experiments, the ability of a squall line to cross a barrier similar to the Appalachians is primarily tied to the characteristics of the downstream thermodynamic environment; however, as the lee thermodynamic environment becomes less favorable, the mean wind exerts a greater influence on system intensity and redevelopment.

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Brice E. Coffer and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

The composite near-storm environments of nontornadic and tornadic supercells sampled during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) both appear to be generally favorable for supercells and tornadoes. It has not been clear whether small differences between the two environments (e.g., more streamwise horizontal vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters above the ground in the tornadic composite) are actually determinative of storms’ tornadic potential. From the VORTEX2 composite environments, simulations of a nontornadic and a tornadic supercell are used to investigate storm-scale differences that ultimately favor tornadogenesis or tornadogenesis failure. Both environments produce strong supercells with robust midlevel mesocyclones and hook echoes, though the tornadic supercell has a more intense low-level updraft and develops a tornado-like vortex exceeding the EF3 wind speed threshold. In contrast, the nontornadic supercell only produces shallow vortices, which never reach the EF0 wind speed threshold. Even though the nontornadic supercell readily produces subtornadic surface vortices, these vortices fail to be stretched by the low-level updraft. This is due to a disorganized low-level mesocyclone caused by predominately crosswise vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters above ground level within the nontornadic environment. In contrast, the tornadic supercell ingests predominately streamwise horizontal vorticity, which promotes a strong low-level mesocyclone with enhanced dynamic lifting and stretching of surface vertical vorticity. These results support the idea that larger streamwise vorticity leads to a more intense low-level mesocyclone, whereas predominately crosswise vorticity yields a less favorable configuration of the low-level mesocyclone for tornadogenesis.

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Brice E. Coffer and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

The dynamical response of simulated supercells to temporally increasing lower-tropospheric vertical wind shear is investigated using idealized simulations. These simulations are based upon observed soundings from two cases that underwent an early evening transition during the Second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2). Mature supercells were simulated in observed afternoon environments with moderate vertical wind shear and then compared to simulated supercells experiencing observed evening increases in lower-tropospheric shear. The primary effect of the increase in low-level shear is to establish larger values of vertical vorticity at lower altitudes in the storm’s updraft. In turn, this leads to a nonlinear increase in the updraft strength due to the enhanced dynamic pressure minimum associated with larger vorticity in the storm’s mesocyclone. This is particularly important at low levels, where it increases the storm's ability to lift cool surface air (including outflow). Trajectories launched in developing vortices show that, despite comparable buoyant accelerations, parcels experience greater vertical velocity and stretching of vertical vorticity due to increased dynamic accelerations when the low-level shear is increased. Thus, even as low-level stability gradually increases in the early evening, the supercells’ low-level updraft intensity and surface vorticity production can increase. These results are consistent with climatological observations of a supercell’s likelihood of tornadogenesis during the early evening hours.

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Casey E. Letkewicz, Adam J. French, and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

Base-state substitution (BSS) is a novel modeling technique for approximating environmental heterogeneity in idealized simulations. After a certain amount of model run time, base-state substitution replaces the original horizontally homogeneous background environment with a new horizontally homogeneous environment while maintaining any perturbations that have developed during the preceding simulation. This allows the user to independently modify the kinematic or thermodynamic environments, or replace the entire sounding without altering the structure of the perturbation fields. Such an approach can provide a powerful hypothesis test, for example, in a study of how an isolated convective storm would respond to a different environment within a horizontally homogeneous setting. The BSS modifications can be made gradually or instantaneously, depending on the needs of the user. In this paper both the gradual and instantaneous BSS procedures are demonstrated for simulations of deep moist convection, using first a wholly idealized setup and then a pair of observed near-storm soundings. Examination of domainwide model statistics demonstrates that model stability is maintained following the introduction of the new background environment. Following BSS, domain total mass and energy exhibit the expected instantaneous jumps upward or downward as a result of the imposed changes to the mean thermal and wind profiles, after which they remain steady during the subsequent simulation. The gridded model fields are well behaved and change gradually as the simulated storms respond meteorologically to their new environments. The paper concludes with a discussion of several unique aspects of the BSS approach.

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Brice E. Coffer, Mateusz Taszarek, and Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

The near-ground wind profile exhibits significant control over the organization, intensity, and steadiness of low-level updrafts and mesocyclones in severe thunderstorms, and thus their probability of being associated with tornadogenesis. The present work builds upon recent improvements in supercell tornado forecasting by examining the possibility that storm-relative helicity (SRH) integrated over progressively shallower layers has increased skill in differentiating between significantly tornadic and nontornadic severe thunderstorms. For a population of severe thunderstorms in the United States and Europe, sounding-derived parameters are computed from the ERA5 reanalysis, which has significantly enhanced vertical resolution compared to prior analyses. The ERA5 is shown to represent U.S. convective environments similarly to the Storm Prediction Center’s mesoscale surface objective analysis, but its greater number of vertical levels in the lower troposphere permits calculations to be performed over shallower layers. In the ERA5, progressively shallower layers of SRH provide greater discrimination between nontornadic and significantly tornadic thunderstorms in both the United States and Europe. In the United States, the 0–100 m AGL layer has the highest forecast skill of any SRH layer tested, although gains are comparatively modest for layers shallower than 0–500 m AGL. In Europe, the benefit from using shallower layers of SRH is even greater; the lower-tropospheric SRH is by far the most skillful ingredient there, far exceeding related composite parameters like the significant tornado parameter (which has negligible skill in Europe).

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Brice E. Coffer, Matthew D. Parker, Richard L. Thompson, Bryan T. Smith, and Ryan E. Jewell

Abstract

This study examines the possibility that supercell tornado forecasts could be improved by utilizing the storm-relative helicity (SRH) in the lowest few hundred meters of the atmosphere (instead of much deeper layers). This hypothesis emerges from a growing body of literature linking the near-ground wind profile to the organization of the low-level mesocyclone and thus the probability of tornadogenesis. This study further addresses the ramifications of near-ground SRH to the skill of the significant tornado parameter (STP), which is probably the most commonly used environmental indicator for tornadic thunderstorms. Using a sample of 20 194 severe, right-moving supercells spanning a 13-yr period, sounding-derived parameters were compared using forecast verification metrics, emphasizing a high probability of detection for tornadic supercells while minimizing false alarms. This climatology reveals that the kinematic components of environmental profiles are more skillful at discriminating significantly tornadic supercells from severe, nontornadic supercells than the thermodynamic components. The effective-layer SRH has by far the greatest forecast skill among the components of the STP, as it is currently defined. However, using progressively shallower layers for the SRH calculation leads to increasing forecast skill. Replacing the effective-layer SRH with the 0–500 m AGL SRH in the formulation of STP increases the number of correctly predicted events by 8% and decreases the number of missed events and false alarms by 18%. These results provide promising evidence that forecast parameters can still be improved through increased understanding of the environmental controls on the processes that govern tornado formation.

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