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Geoffrey R. Marion and Robert J. Trapp

Abstract

Although tornadoes produced by quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) generally are weak and short-lived, they have high societal impact due to their proclivity to develop over short time scales, within the cool season, and during nighttime hours. Precisely why they are weak and short lived is not well understood, although recent work suggests that QLCS updraft width may act as a limitation to tornado intensity. Herein, idealized simulations of tornadic QLCSs are performed with variations in hodograph shape and length as well as initiation mechanism to determine the controls of tornado intensity. Generally, the addition of hodograph curvature in these experiments results in stronger, longer-lived tornadic like vortices (TLVs). A strong correlation between low-level mesocyclone width and TLV intensity is identified (R2 = 0.61), with a weaker correlation in the low-level updraft intensity (R2 = 0.41). The tilt and depth of the updraft are found to have little correlation to tornado intensity. Comparing QLCS and isolated supercell updrafts within these simulations, the QLCS updrafts are less persistent, with the standard deviations of low-level vertical velocity and updraft helicity to be approximately 48% and 117% greater, respectively. A forcing decomposition reveals that the QLCS cold pool plays a direct role in the development of the low-level updraft, providing the benefit of additional forcing for ascent while also having potentially deleterious effects on both the low-level updraft and near-surface rotation. The negative impact of the cold pool ultimately serves to limit the persistence of rotating updraft cores within the QLCS.

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Geoffrey R. Marion and Robert J. Trapp

Abstract

Although tornadoes produced by quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) generally are weak and short lived, they have high societal impact due to their proclivity to develop over short time scales, within the cool season, and during nighttime hours. Precisely why they are weak and short lived is not well understood, although recent work suggests that QLCS updraft width may act as a limitation to tornado intensity. Herein, idealized simulations of tornadic QLCSs are performed with variations in hodograph shape and length as well as initiation mechanism to determine the controls of tornado intensity. Generally, the addition of hodograph curvature in these experiments results in stronger, longer-lived tornadic-like vortices (TLVs). A strong correlation between low-level mesocyclone width and TLV intensity is identified (R 2 = 0.61), with a weaker correlation in the low-level updraft intensity (R 2 = 0.41). The tilt and depth of the updraft are found to have little correlation to tornado intensity. Comparing QLCS and isolated supercell updrafts within these simulations, the QLCS updrafts are less persistent, with the standard deviations of low-level vertical velocity and updraft helicity approximately 48% and 117% greater, respectively. A forcing decomposition reveals that the QLCS cold pool plays a direct role in the development of the low-level updraft, providing the benefit of additional forcing for ascent while also having potentially deleterious effects on both the low-level updraft and near-surface rotation. The negative impact of the cold pool ultimately serves to limit the persistence of rotating updraft cores within the QLCS.

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Robert J. Trapp, Geoffrey R. Marion, and Stephen W. Nesbitt
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Robert J. Trapp, Geoffrey R. Marion, and Stephen W. Nesbitt

Abstract

Strong to violent tornadoes cause a disproportionate amount of damage, in part because the width and length of a tornado damage track are correlated to tornado intensity (as now estimated through enhanced Fujita scale ratings). The tendency expressed in the observational record is that the most intense tornadoes are often the widest. Herein the authors explore the simple hypothesis that wide intense tornadoes should form more readily out of wide rotating updrafts. This hypothesis is based on an application of Kelvin’s circulation theorem, which is used to argue that the large circulation associated with a wide intense tornado is more plausibly associated with a wide mesocyclone. Because a mesocyclone is, strictly speaking, a rotating updraft, the mesocyclone width should increase with increasing updraft width. A simple mathematical model that is quantified using observations of mesocyclones supports this hypothesis, as do idealized numerical simulations of supercellular thunderstorms.

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