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Israel L. Jirak and William R. Cotton
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Israel L. Jirak and William R. Cotton

Abstract

Air pollution generated in industrial and urban areas can act to suppress precipitation by creating a narrow cloud droplet spectrum, which inhibits the collision and coalescence process. In fact, precipitation ratios of elevated sites to upwind coastal urban areas have decreased during the twentieth century for locations in California and Israel while pollution emissions have increased. Precipitation suppression by pollution should also be evident in other areas of the world where shallow, orographic clouds produce precipitation. This study investigates the precipitation trends for sites along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to determine the effect of air pollution on precipitation in this region. The examination of precipitation trends reveals that the ratio of upslope precipitation for elevated sites west of Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado, to upwind urban sites has decreased by approximately 30% over the past half-century. Similar precipitation trends were not found for more pristine sites in the region, providing evidence of precipitation suppression by air pollution.

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Nathan A. Wendt and Israel L. Jirak

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The multi-radar/multi-sensor (MRMS) system generates an operational suite of derived products in the NationalWeather Service useful for real-time monitoring of severe convective weather. One such product generated byMRMSis the maximum estimated size of hail (MESH) that estimates hail size based on the radar reflectivity properties of a storm above the environmental 0 °C level. The MRMS MESH product is commonly used across the National Weather Service (NWS), including the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), to diagnose the expected hail size in thunderstorms. Previous work has explored the relationship between the MRMS MESH product and severe hail (≥ 25.4 mm or 1 in.) reported at the ground. This work provides an hourly climatology of severe MRMS MESH across the contiguous U.S. from 2012–2019, including an analysis of how the MESH climatology differs from the severe hail reports climatology. Results suggest that the MESH can provide beneficial hail risk information in areas where population density is low. Evidence shows that the MESH can provide potentially beneficial information about severe hail occurrence during the night in locations that are climatologically favored for upscale convective growth and elevated convection. These findings have important implications for the use of MESH as a verification dataset for SPC probabilistic hail forecasts as well as severe weather watch decisions in areas of higher hail risk but low population density.

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Israel L. Jirak and William R. Cotton

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Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) have a large influence on the weather over the central United States during the warm season by generating essential rainfall and severe weather. To gain insight into the predictability of these systems, the precursor environments of several hundred MCSs across the United States were reviewed during the warm seasons of 1996–98. Surface analyses were used to identify initiating mechanisms for each system, and North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) data were used to examine the environment prior to MCS development. Similarly, environments unable to support organized convective systems were also investigated for comparison with MCS precursor environments. Significant differences were found between environments that support MCS development and those that do not support convective organization. MCSs were most commonly initiated by frontal boundaries; however, features that enhance convective initiation are often not sufficient for MCS development, as the environment needs also to be supportive for the development and organization of long-lived convective systems. Low-level warm air advection, low-level vertical wind shear, and convective instability were found to be the most important parameters in determining whether concentrated convection would undergo upscale growth into an MCS. Based on these results, an index was developed for use in forecasting MCSs. The MCS index assigns a likelihood of MCS development based on three terms: 700-hPa temperature advection, 0–3-km vertical wind shear, and the lifted index. An evaluation of the MCS index revealed that it exhibits features consistent with common MCS characteristics and is reasonably accurate in forecasting MCSs, especially given that convective initiation has occurred, offering the possibility of usefulness in operational forecasting.

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Israel L. Jirak, William R. Cotton, and Ray L. McAnelly

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An investigation of several hundred mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) during the warm seasons (April–August) of 1996–98 is presented. Circular and elongated MCSs on both the large and small scales were classified and analyzed in this study using satellite and radar data. The satellite classification scheme used for this study includes two previously defined categories and two new categories: mesoscale convective complexes (MCCs), persistent elongated convective systems (PECSs), meso-β circular convective systems (MβCCSs), and meso-β elongated convective systems (MβECSs). Around two-thirds of the MCSs in the study fell into the larger satellite-defined categories (MCCs and PECSs). These larger systems produced more severe weather, generated much more precipitation, and reached a peak frequency earlier in the convective season than the smaller, meso-β systems. Overall, PECSs were found to be the dominant satellite-defined MCS, as they were the largest, most common, most severe, and most prolific precipitation-producing systems.

In addition, 2-km national composite radar reflectivity data were used to analyze the development of each of the systems. A three-level radar classification scheme describing MCS development is introduced. The classification scheme is based on the following elements: presence of stratiform precipitation, arrangement of convective cells, and interaction of convective clusters. Considerable differences were found among the systems when categorized by these features. Grouping systems by the interaction of their convective clusters revealed that more than 70% of the MCSs evolved from the merger of multiple convective clusters, which resulted in larger systems than those that developed from a single cluster. The most significant difference occurred when classifying systems by their arrangement of convective cells. In particular, if the initial convection were linearly arranged, the mature MCSs were larger, longer-lived, more severe, and more effective at producing precipitation than MCSs that developed from areally arranged convection.

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Brett Roberts, Israel L. Jirak, Adam J. Clark, Steven J. Weiss, and John S. Kain

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Since the early 2000s, growing computing resources for numerical weather prediction (NWP) and scientific advances enabled development and testing of experimental, real-time deterministic convection-allowing models (CAMs). By the late 2000s, continued advancements spurred development of CAM ensemble forecast systems, through which a broad range of successful forecasting applications have been demonstrated. This work has prepared the National Weather Service (NWS) for practical usage of the High Resolution Ensemble Forecast (HREF) system, which was implemented operationally in November 2017. Historically, methods for postprocessing and visualizing products from regional and global ensemble prediction systems (e.g., ensemble means and spaghetti plots) have been applied to fields that provide information on mesoscale to synoptic-scale processes. However, much of the value from CAMs is derived from the explicit simulation of deep convection and associated storm-attribute fields like updraft helicity and simulated reflectivity. Thus, fully exploiting CAM ensembles for forecasting applications has required the development of fundamentally new data extraction, postprocessing, and visualization strategies. In the process, challenges imposed by the immense data volume inherent to these systems required new approaches when considering diverse factors like forecaster interpretation and computational expense. In this article, we review the current state of postprocessing and visualization for CAM ensembles, with a particular focus on forecast applications for severe convective hazards that have been evaluated within NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed. The HREF web viewer implemented at the NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC) is presented as a prototype for deploying these techniques in real time on a flexible and widely accessible platform.

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Aaron Johnson, Xuguang Wang, Yongming Wang, Anthony Reinhart, Adam J. Clark, and Israel L. Jirak

Abstract

An object-based probabilistic (OBPROB) forecasting framework is developed and applied, together with a more traditional neighborhood-based framework, to convection-permitting ensemble forecasts produced by the University of Oklahoma (OU) Multiscale data Assimilation and Predictability (MAP) laboratory during the 2017 and 2018 NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiments. Case studies from 2017 are used for parameter tuning and demonstration of methodology, while the 2018 ensemble forecasts are systematically verified. The 2017 case study demonstrates that the OBPROB forecast product can provide a unique tool to operational forecasters that includes convective-scale details such as storm mode and morphology, which are typically lost in neighborhood-based methods, while also providing quantitative ensemble probabilistic guidance about those details in a more easily interpretable format than the more commonly used paintball plots. The case study also demonstrates that objective verification metrics reveal different relative performance of the ensemble at different forecast lead times depending on the verification framework (i.e., object versus neighborhood) because of the different features emphasized by object- and neighborhood-based evaluations. Both frameworks are then used for a systematic evaluation of 26 forecasts from the spring of 2018. The OBPROB forecast verification as configured in this study shows less sensitivity to forecast lead time than the neighborhood forecasts. Both frameworks indicate a need for probabilistic calibration to improve ensemble reliability. However, lower ensemble discrimination for OBPROB than the neighborhood-based forecasts is also noted.

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Aaron Johnson, Xuguang Wang, Yongming Wang, Anthony Reinhart, Adam J. Clark, and Israel L. Jirak

Abstract

An object-based probabilistic (OBPROB) forecasting framework is developed and applied, together with a more traditional neighborhood-based framework, to convection-permitting ensemble forecasts produced by the University of Oklahoma (OU) Multiscale data Assimilation and Predictability (MAP) laboratory during the 2017 and 2018 NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiments. Case studies from 2017 are used for parameter tuning and demonstration of methodology, while the 2018 ensemble forecasts are systematically verified. The 2017 case study demonstrates that the OBPROB forecast product can provide a unique tool to operational forecasters that includes convective-scale details such as storm mode and morphology, which are typically lost in neighborhood-based methods, while also providing quantitative ensemble probabilistic guidance about those details in a more easily interpretable format than the more commonly used paintball plots. The case study also demonstrates that objective verification metrics reveal different relative performance of the ensemble at different forecast lead times depending on the verification framework (i.e., object versus neighborhood) because of the different features emphasized by object- and neighborhood-based evaluations. Both frameworks are then used for a systematic evaluation of 26 forecasts from the spring of 2018. The OBPROB forecast verification as configured in this study shows less sensitivity to forecast lead time than the neighborhood forecasts. Both frameworks indicate a need for probabilistic calibration to improve ensemble reliability. However, lower ensemble discrimination for OBPROB than the neighborhood-based forecasts is also noted.

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Clark Evans, Steven J. Weiss, Israel L. Jirak, Andrew R. Dean, and David S. Nevius

Abstract

This study evaluates forecast vertical thermodynamic profiles and derived thermodynamic parameters from two regional/convection-allowing model pairs, the North American Mesoscale Forecast System and the North American Mesoscale Nest model pair and the Rapid Refresh and High Resolution Rapid Refresh model pair, in warm-season, thunderstorm-supporting environments. Differences in bias and mean absolute error between the regional and convection-allowing models in each of the two pairs, while often statistically significant, are practically small for the variables, parameters, and vertical levels considered, such that the smaller-scale variability resolved by convection-allowing models does not degrade their forecast skill. Model biases shared by the regional and convection-allowing models in each pair are documented, particularly the substantial cool and moist biases in the planetary boundary layer arising from the Mellor–Yamada–Janjić planetary boundary layer parameterization used by the North American Mesoscale model and the Nest version as well as the middle-tropospheric moist bias shared by the Rapid Refresh and High Resolution Rapid Refresh models. Bias and mean absolute errors typically have larger magnitudes in the evening, when buoyancy is a significant contributor to turbulent vertical mixing, than in the morning. Vertical thermodynamic profile biases extend over a deep vertical layer in the western United States given strong sensible heating of the underlying surface. The results suggest that convection-allowing models can fulfill the use cases typically and historically met by regional models in operations at forecast entities such as the Storm Prediction Center, a fruitful finding given the proposed elimination of regional models with the Next-Generation Global Prediction System initiative.

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Ariel E. Cohen, Steven M. Cavallo, Michael C. Coniglio, Harold E. Brooks, and Israel L. Jirak

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Southeast U.S. cold season severe weather events can be difficult to predict because of the marginality of the supporting thermodynamic instability in this regime. The sensitivity of this environment to prognoses of instability encourages additional research on ways in which mesoscale models represent turbulent processes within the lower atmosphere that directly influence thermodynamic profiles and forecasts of instability. This work summarizes characteristics of the southeast U.S. cold season severe weather environment and planetary boundary layer (PBL) parameterization schemes used in mesoscale modeling and proceeds with a focused investigation of the performance of nine different representations of the PBL in this environment by comparing simulated thermodynamic and kinematic profiles to observationally influenced ones. It is demonstrated that simultaneous representation of both nonlocal and local mixing in the Asymmetric Convective Model, version 2 (ACM2), scheme has the lowest overall errors for the southeast U.S. cold season tornado regime. For storm-relative helicity, strictly nonlocal schemes provide the largest overall differences from observationally influenced datasets (underforecast). Meanwhile, strictly local schemes yield the most extreme differences from these observationally influenced datasets (underforecast) in a mean sense for the low-level lapse rate and depth of the PBL, on average. A hybrid local–nonlocal scheme is found to mitigate these mean difference extremes. These findings are traced to a tendency for local schemes to incompletely mix the PBL while nonlocal schemes overmix the PBL, whereas the hybrid schemes represent more intermediate mixing in a regime where vertical shear enhances mixing and limited instability suppresses mixing.

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