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David M. L. Sills

The Meteorological Service of Canada held a series of three Forecasters Forum meetings between 2003 and 2005 to seek input from the meteorological community on the best ways to implement a restructuring strategy and to develop a common vision related to the provision of weather forecasts. The meeting provided significant insight into a number of topics related to operational forecasting in Canada and have added to the larger discussion on these issues in the international meteorological community.

During the course of the three forums, several themes emerged as overarching concerns. Foremost among them was the future role of the human forecaster. Most forum participants believed that human forecasters should be the “heart of weather prediction,” with an increased emphasis on the analysis/diagnosis/prognosis paradigm, and recommended developing the sophisticated tools required to facilitate that role.

Using results from the forums, it is suggested here that the primary role of the future forecaster should be to develop and maintain a sequence of plan-view composite depictions evolving through time to best represent the current and future states of the atmosphere. This would be accomplished using an area-based, object-oriented analysis/forecast system, with a toolbox of numerical weather prediction guidance and carefully designed artificial intelligence assistants. The forecaster's work would be focused on high-impact weather events, mainly in the short term but also in the longer term when necessary. Products would be automatically generated from the weather object database, allowing the forecast team to focus on “hands on” meteorology and maintaining shared situational awareness at all times.

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Lisa S. Alexander, David M. L. Sills, and Peter A. Taylor

Abstract

The relationship between low-level mesoscale boundaries and convective storm initiation was investigated in southwestern Ontario, Canada. The influence of lake-breeze fronts, a type of boundary that frequently affects this region of the Great Lakes watershed in summer, presented a particular interest.

Radar data were processed using thunderstorm cell identification and tracking algorithms. The distances between the locations of storm cells reaching an intensity of 40 dBZ and the closest low-level mesoscale boundary were measured. Considering only days not influenced by a warm front, more than 75% of cells developed within 30 km of a low-level mesoscale boundary. Further examination by boundary type showed that cell initiations associated with moving boundaries and storm gust fronts occurred most often 0–5 km behind the boundaries. However, cell initiations associated with lake-breeze fronts most often occurred 0–5 km ahead of the boundaries. The analysis also suggested that lake-breeze fronts would often initiate the first storms of the day, which in turn generated gust fronts that could initiate subsequent storms.

Overall, the results were similar to a previous study investigating storm initiation in the vicinity of low-level mesoscale boundaries in eastern Colorado and include some new findings in relation to lake-breeze fronts. The findings can be used by forecasters as well as automated nowcasting algorithms in order to improve predictions of storm initiation.

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Chun-Chih Wang, Daniel J. Kirshbaum, and David M. L. Sills

Abstract

Observations from the 2015 Environment and Climate Change Canada Pan/Parapan American Science Showcase (ECPASS) and real-case, cloud-resolving numerical simulations with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model are used to investigate two cases of moist convection forced by lake-breeze convergence over southern Ontario (18 July and 15 August 2015). The two cases shared several characteristics, including high pressure conditions, similar morning soundings, and isolated afternoon convection along a line of lake-breeze convergence between Lakes Erie and Ontario. However, the convection was significantly stronger in the August case, with robustly deeper clouds and larger radar reflectivities than in the July case. Synoptic and mesoscale analyses of these events reveal that the key difference between them was their large-scale forcing. The July event exhibited a combination of strong warm advection and large-scale descent at midlevels (850–650 hPa), which created an inversion layer that capped cloud tops at 4–6 km. The August case exhibited similar features (large-scale descent and warm advection), but these were focused at higher levels (700–400 hPa) and weaker. As a consequence, the convection in the August case was less suppressed at midlevels and ascended deeper (reaching over 8 km). Although the subcloud updraft along the lake-breeze convergence zone was also found to be stronger in the August case, this difference was found to be an effect, rather than a cause, of stronger moist convection within the cloud layer.

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Vincent Y. S. Cheng, George B. Arhonditsis, David M. L. Sills, William A. Gough, and Heather Auld

Abstract

Destruction and fatalities from recent tornado outbreaks in North America have raised considerable concerns regarding their climatic and geographic variability. However, regional characterization of tornado activity in relation to large-scale climatic processes remains highly uncertain. Here, a novel Bayesian hierarchical framework is developed for elucidating the spatiotemporal variability of the factors underlying tornado occurrence in North America. It is demonstrated that regional variability of tornado activity can be characterized using a hierarchical parameterization of convective available potential energy, storm relative helicity, and vertical wind shear quantities. It is shown that the spatial variability of tornado occurrence during the warm summer season can be explained by convective available potential energy and storm relative helicity alone, while vertical wind shear is clearly better at capturing the spatial variability of the cool season tornado activity. The results suggest that the Bayesian hierarchical modeling approach is effective for understanding the regional tornadic environment and in forming the basis for establishing tornado prognostic tools in North America.

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David M. L. Sills, James W. Wilson, Paul I. Joe, Donald W. Burgess, Robert M. Webb, and Neil I. Fox

Abstract

Several severe thunderstorms, including a tornadic supercell, developed on the afternoon of 3 November 2000, during the Sydney 2000 Forecast Demonstration Project. Severe weather included three tornadoes, damaging wind gusts, hail to 7-cm diameter, and heavy rain causing flash flooding. A unique dataset was collected including data from two Doppler radars, a surface mesonet, enhanced upper-air profiling, storm photography, and a storm damage survey. Synoptic-scale forcing was weak and mesoscale factors were central to the development of severe weather. In particular, low-level boundaries such as gust fronts and the sea-breeze front played critical roles in the initiation and enhancement of storms, the motion of storms, and the generation of rotation at low levels. The complex and often subtle boundary interactions that led to the development of the tornadic supercell in this case highlight the need for advanced detection and prediction tools to improve the warning capacity for such events.

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David M. L. Sills, Gregory A. Kopp, Lesley Elliott, Aaron L. Jaffe, Liz Sutherland, Connell S. Miller, Joanne M. Kunkel, Emilio Hong, Sarah A. Stevenson, and William Wang

Abstract

Canada is a vast country with most of its population located along its southern border. Large areas are sparsely populated and/or heavily forested, and severe weather reports are rare when thunderstorms occur there. Thus, it has been difficult to accurately assess the true tornado climatology and risk. It is also important to establish a reliable baseline for tornado-related climate change studies. The Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP), led by Western University, is an ambitious multidisciplinary initiative aimed at detecting and documenting every tornado that occurs across Canada. A team of meteorologists and wind engineers collects research-quality data during each damage investigation via thorough ground surveys and high-resolution satellite, aircraft, and drone imaging. Crowdsourcing through social media is also key to tracking down events. In addition, NTP conducts research to improve our ability to detect and accurately assess tornadoes that affect forests, cropland, and grassland. An open data website allows sharing of resulting datasets and analyses. Pilot investigations were carried out during the warm seasons of 2017 and 2018, with the scope expanding from the detection of any tornadoes in heavily forested regions of central Canada in 2017 to the detection of all EF1+ tornadoes in Ontario plus all significant events outside of Ontario in 2018. The 2019 season was the first full campaign, systematically collecting research-quality tornado data across the entire country. To date, the project has found 89 tornadoes that otherwise would not have been identified, and increased the national tornado count in 2019 by 78%.

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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, and 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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Patrick W. S. King, Michael J. Leduc, David M. L. Sills, Norman R. Donaldson, David R. Hudak, Paul Joe, and Brian P. Murphy

Abstract

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) imagery is used to demonstrate the development of lake-breeze boundaries in southern Ontario under different synoptic conditions. The orientation of the gradient wind with respect to the shorelines is important in determining the location of such lines. When moderate winds (5–10 m s−1) are parallel to straight sections of coastlines, cloud lines can extend well inland. In the region between Lakes Huron and Erie lake-breeze lines merge frequently, sometimes resulting in long-lasting stationary storms and attendant heavy rain and flooding. The influence of the lakes is apparent in the tornado climatology for the region: tornadoes appear to be suppressed in regions visited by lake-modified air and enhanced in regions favored by lake-breeze convergence lines. The cloud patterns in the case of a cold front interacting with merging lake-breeze boundaries are shown to be similar to those on a major tornado outbreak day. Two of the cases discussed are used as conceptual models to explain many of the features in the patterns of tornado touchdown locations. In general, it appears that the lakes suppress tornadoes in southern Ontario, compared with neighboring states and in particular in areas where southwest winds are onshore, but enhance tornado likelihood locally in areas of frequent lake-breeze activity.

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Neil I. Fox, Rob Webb, John Bally, Michael W. Sleigh, Clive E. Pierce, David M. L. Sills, Paul I. Joe, James Wilson, and Chris G. Collier

Abstract

One of the principal aims of the Sydney 2000 Forecast Demonstration Project was to assess the utility of advanced nowcasting systems to operational severe weather forecasters. This paper describes the application of the products of a variety of systems by forecasters during a severe weather event in Sydney, Australia, on 3 November 2000. During this day a severe storm developed to the south of the metropolitan area and tracked north producing large, damaging hail, heavy rainfall, and at least three tornadoes. A number of severe weather warnings were issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to a variety of customers throughout the day.

This paper investigates how the novel nowcast products were used by the forecasters and the impact they had on the forecast and warning dissemination procedure. The products used are contrasted with those that were available or could have been made available at various stages of the storm development and the efficiency of use of these products is discussed. The severe weather forecasters expressed their satisfaction with the systems and believed that the additional information enhanced the quality and timeliness of the warnings issued during the event.

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Vincent Y. S. Cheng, George B. Arhonditsis, David M. L. Sills, Heather Auld, Mark W. Shephard, William A. Gough, and Joan Klaassen

Abstract

The number of tornado observations in Canada is believed to be significantly lower than the actual occurrences. To account for this bias, the authors propose a Bayesian modeling approach founded upon the explicit consideration of the population sampling bias in tornado observations and the predictive relationship between cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning flash climatology and tornado occurrence. The latter variable was used as an indicator for quantifying convective storm activity, which is generally a precursor to tornado occurrence. The CG lightning data were generated from an 11-yr lightning climatology survey (1999–2009) from the Canadian Lightning Detection Network. The results suggest that the predictions of tornado occurrence in populated areas are fairly reliable with no profound underestimation bias. In sparsely populated areas, the analysis shows that the probability of tornado occurrence is significantly higher than what is represented in the 30-yr data record. Areas with low population density but high lightning flash density demonstrate the greatest discrepancy between predicted and observed tornado occurrence. A sensitivity analysis with various grid sizes was also conducted. It was found that the predictive statements supported by the model are fairly robust to the grid configuration, but the population density per grid cell is more representative to the actual population density at smaller resolution and therefore more accurately depicts the probability of tornado occurrence. Finally, a tornado probability map is calculated for Canada based on the frequency of tornado occurrence derived from the model and the estimated damage area of individual tornado events.

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