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K. J. Tory and J. D. Kepert

Abstract

Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) clouds are difficult to predict and can produce extreme and unexpected wildfire behavior that can be very hazardous to fire crews. Many forecasters modify conventional thunderstorm diagnostics to predict pyroCb potential, by adding temperature (Δθ) and moisture increments (Δq) to represent smoke plume thermodynamics near the expected plume condensation level. However, estimating these Δθ and Δq increments is a highly subjective process that requires expert knowledge of all factors that might influence future fire size and intensity. In this paper, instead of trying to anticipate these Δθ and Δq increments for a particular fire, the minimum firepower required to generate pyroCb for a given atmospheric environment is considered. This concept, termed the pyroCb firepower threshold (PFT) requires only atmospheric information, removing the need for subjective estimates of the fire contribution. A simple approach to calculating PFT is presented that incorporates only basic plume-rise physics, yielding an analytic solution that offers important insight into plume behavior and pyroCb formation. Minimum increments of Δθ and Δq required for deep, moist convection, plus a minimum cloud-base height (zfc), are diagnosed on a thermodynamic diagram. Briggs’s plume rise equations are used to convert Δθ, zfc, and a mean horizontal wind speed U to a measure of the PFT: the minimum heat flux entering the base of the plume. This PFT is proportional to the product of U, Δθ, and the square of zfc. Plume behavior insights provided by the Briggs’s equations are discussed, and a selection of PFT examples presented.

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Peter T. May, J. D. Kepert, and T. D. Keenan

Abstract

Tropical Cyclone Ingrid had a distinctly asymmetric reflectivity structure with an offshore maximum as it passed parallel to and over an extended coastline near a polarimetric weather radar located near Darwin, northern Australia. For the first time in a tropical cyclone, polarimetric weather radar microphysical analyses are used to identify extensive graupel and rain–hail mixtures in the eyewall. The overall microphysical structure was similar to that seen in some other asymmetric storms that have been sampled by research aircraft. Both environmental shear and the land–sea interface contributed significantly to the asymmetry, but their relative contributions were not determined. The storm also underwent very rapid changes in tangential wind speed as it moved over a narrow region of open ocean between a peninsula and the Tiwi Islands. The time scale for changes of 10 m s−1 was of the order of 1 h. There were also two distinct types of rainbands observed—large-scale principal bands with embedded deep convection and small-scale bands located within 50 km of the eyewall with shallow convective cells.

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Yuqing Wang, Jeff D. Kepert, and Greg J. Holland

Abstract

Strong winds in a tropical cyclone over the ocean can produce high seas with substantial amounts of spray in the lower part of the atmospheric boundary layer. The effects that the evaporation of this sea spray may have on the transfer of energy between the ocean and the atmosphere, and consequent effects on the boundary layer structure, cumulus convection, and the evolution of the tropical cyclone, are largely unknown. In this study, a high-resolution tropical cyclone model with explicit cloud microphysics, developed by Y. Wang, has been used to study these potential effects. The sea spray evaporation is incorporated into the model by two bulk parameterization schemes with quite different properties.

The numerical results show that inclusion of the Fairall et al. sea spray parameterization increases the direct sensible heat flux from the ocean by about 70%, but has little effect on the direct latent heat flux. Sea spray itself causes a sensible heat flux of only about 6% of the direct sensible heat flux, while it contributes a latent heat flux by evaporation of sea spray droplets by 60%–70% of the direct latent heat flux. As a result, the total enthalpy flux with sea spray evaporation increases by about 20%, while the net contribution by sea spray is only about 1.5% of the total enthalpy flux. Consistent with this, the intensity of the model tropical cyclone is moderately increased by 8% in the maximum wind speed by the introduction of sea spray. The lower atmosphere becomes cooler and moister due to the evaporation of sea spray, which is supported by the available observations. The cooling in the surface layer further modifies the boundary layer structure and the activity of convection, especially in the near-core region where the highest concentration of sea spray exists.

On the other hand, with the Andreas and DeCosmo parameterization scheme, the intensity of the model tropical cyclone is increased by 25% in maximum wind speed. This dramatic increase in the model tropical cyclone intensity is due to both the large net sensible heat flux and the latent heat flux associated with the effect of sea spray by this parameterization scheme. The net upward sensible heat flux warms the air near the surface and results in a near-isothermal surface layer in the near-core environment under the tropical cyclone. Such a structure, however, is not supported by the available observations, which the authors argue is not physically realistic. The radically different results with this scheme are due to the unusual way that the feedbacks between direct and spray-mediated fluxes are handled within the parameterization.

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Paul A. Gregory, Lawrie J. Rikus, and Jeffrey D. Kepert

Abstract

The ability of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems to predict solar exposure (or insolation) was tested, with the aim of predicting large-scale solar energy several days in advance. The bureau’s Limited Area Prediction System (LAPS) and Mesoscale Assimilation model (MALAPS) were examined for the 2008 calendar year. Comparisons were made with estimates of solar exposure obtained from satellites for the whole Australian continent, as well as site-based exposure observations taken at eight locations across Australia. Monthly-averaged forecast solar exposure over Australia showed good agreement with satellite estimates; the day-to-day exposure values showed some consistent biases, however. Differences in forecast solar exposure were attributed to incorrect representation of convective cloud in the tropics during summer as well as clouds formed by orographic lifting over mountainous areas in southeastern Australia. Comparison with site-based exposure observations was conducted on a daily and hourly basis. The site-based exposure measurements were consistent with the findings from the analysis against satellite data. Hourly analysis at selected sites confirmed that models predicted the solar exposure accurately through low-level clouds (e.g., cumulus), provided that the forecast cloud coverage was accurate. The NWP models struggle to predict solar exposure through middle and high clouds formed by ice crystals (e.g., altocumulus). Sites located in central Australia showed that the monthly-averaged errors in daily solar exposure forecast by the NWP systems were within 5%–10%, up to two days in advance. These errors increased to 20%–30% in the tropics and coastal areas.

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Eric W. Schulz, Jeffrey D. Kepert, and Diana J. M. Greenslade

Abstract

A method for routinely verifying numerical weather prediction surface marine winds with satellite scatterometer winds is introduced. The marine surface winds from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s operational global and regional numerical weather prediction systems are evaluated. The model marine surface layer is described. Marine surface winds from the global and limited-area models are compared with observations, both in situ (anemometer) and remote (scatterometer). A 2-yr verification shows that wind speeds from the regional model are typically underestimated by approximately 5%, with a greater bias in the meridional direction than the zonal direction. The global model also underestimates the surface winds by around 5%–10%. A case study of a significant marine storm shows that where larger errors occur, they are due to an underestimation of the storm intensity, rather than to biases in the boundary layer parameterizations.

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Kevin J. Tory, William Thurston, and Jeffrey D. Kepert

Abstract

In favorable atmospheric conditions, fires can produce pyrocumulonimbus cloud (pyroCb) in the form of deep convective columns resembling conventional thunderstorms, which may be accompanied by strong inflow, dangerous downbursts, and lightning strikes that can produce dangerous changes in fire behavior. PyroCb formation conditions are not well understood and are difficult to forecast. This paper presents a theoretical study of the thermodynamics of fire plumes to better understand the influence of a range of factors on plume condensation. Plume gases are considered to be undiluted at the fire source and approach 100% dilution at the plume top (neutral buoyancy). Plume condensation height changes are considered for this full range of dilution and for a given set of factors that include environmental temperature and humidity, fire temperature, and fire-moisture-to-heat ratios. The condensation heights are calculated and plotted as saturation point (SP) curves on thermodynamic diagrams. The position and slope of the SP curves provide insight into how plume condensation is affected by the environment thermodynamics and ratios of fire heat to moisture production. Plume temperature traces from large-eddy model simulations added to the diagrams provide additional insight into plume condensation heights and plume buoyancy at condensation. SP curves added to a mixed layer lifting condensation level on standard thermodynamic diagrams can be used to identify the minimum plume condensation height and buoyancy required for deep, moist, free convection to develop, which will aid pyroCb prediction.

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K. J. Tory, J. D. Kepert, J. A. Sippel, and C. M. Nguyen

Abstract

This study critically assesses potential vorticity (PV) tendency equations used for analyzing atmospheric convective systems. A generic PV tendency format is presented to provide a framework for comparing PV tendency equations, which isolates the contributions to PV tendency from wind and mass field changes. These changes are separated into forcing terms (e.g., diabatic or friction) and flow adjustment and evolution terms (i.e., adiabatic motions).

One PV tendency formulation analyzed separates PV tendency into terms representing PV advection and diabatic and frictional PV sources. In this form the PV advection is shown to exhibit large cancellation with the diabatic forcing term when used to analyze deep convective systems, which compromises the dynamical insight that the PV tendency analysis should provide. The isentropic PV substance tendency formulation of Haynes and McIntyre does not suffer from this cancellation problem. However, while the Haynes and McIntyre formulation may be appropriate for many convective system applications, there are likely to be some applications in which the formulation is difficult to apply or is not ideal.

This study introduces a family of PV tendency equations in geometric coordinates that is free from the deficiencies of the above formulations. Simpler forms are complemented by more complex forms that expand the vorticity tendency term to offer additional insight into flow dynamics. The more complex forms provide insight similar to the influential Haynes and McIntyre isentropic formulation.

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Bruce A. Harper, John D. Holmes, Jeffrey D. Kepert, Luciano B. Mason, and Peter J. Vickery

Abstract

Cook and Nicholls recently argued in this journal that the city of Darwin (Northern Territory), Australia, should be located in wind region D rather than in the current region C in the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1170.2 wind actions standard, in which region D has significantly higher risk. These comments critically examine the methods used by Cook and Nicholls and find serious flaws in them, sufficient to invalidate their conclusions. Specific flaws include 1) invalid assumptions in their analysis method, including that cyclones are assumed to be at the maximum intensity along their entire path across the sampling circle even after they have crossed extensive land areas; 2) a lack of verification that the simulated cyclone tracks are consistent with the known climatological data and in particular that the annual rate of simulated cyclones at each station greatly exceeds the numbers recorded for the entire Australian region; and 3) the apparent omission of key cyclones when comparing the risk at Darwin with two other locations. It is shown here that the number of cyclones that have affected Port Hedland (Western Australia), a site in Australia’s region D, greatly exceeds the number that have influenced Darwin over the same period for any chosen threshold of intensity. Analysis of the recorded gusts from anemometers at Port Hedland and Darwin that is presented here further supports this result. On the basis of this evidence, the authors conclude that Darwin’s tropical cyclone wind risk is adequately described by its current location in region C.

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K. J. Tory, M. T. Montgomery, N. E. Davidson, and J. D. Kepert

Abstract

This is the second of a three-part investigation into tropical cyclone (TC) genesis in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Tropical Cyclone Limited Area Prediction System (TC-LAPS). The primary TC-LAPS vortex enhancement mechanism (convergence/stretching and vertical advection of absolute vorticity in convective updraft regions) was presented in Part I. In this paper (Part II) results from a numerical simulation of TC Chris (western Australia, February 2002) are used to illustrate the primary and two secondary vortex enhancement mechanisms that led to TC genesis. In Part III a number of simulations are presented exploring the sensitivity and variability of genesis forecasts in TC-LAPS.

During the first 18 h of the simulation, a mature vortex of TC intensity developed in a monsoon low from a relatively benign initial state. Deep upright vortex cores developed from convergence/stretching and vertical advection of absolute vorticity within the updrafts of intense bursts of cumulus convection. Individual convective bursts lasted for 6–12 h, with a new burst developing as the previous one weakened. The modeled bursts appear as single updrafts, and represent the mean vertical motion in convective regions because the 0.15° grid spacing imposes a minimum updraft scale of about 60 km. This relatively large scale may be unrealistic in the earlier genesis period when multiple smaller-scale, shorter-lived convective regions are often observed, but observational evidence suggests that such scales can be expected later in the process. The large scale may limit the convection to only one or two active bursts at a time, and may have contributed to a more rapid model intensification than that observed.

The monsoon low was tilted to the northwest, with convection initiating about 100–200 km west of the low-level center. The convective bursts and associated upright potential vorticity (PV) anomalies were advected cyclonically around the low, weakening as they passed to the north of the circulation center, leaving remnant cyclonic PV anomalies.

Strong convergence into the updrafts led to rapid ingestion of nearby cyclonic PV anomalies, including remnant PV cores from decaying convective bursts. Thus convective intensity, rather than the initial vortex size and intensity, determined dominance in vortex interactions. This scavenging of PV by the active convective region, termed diabatic upscale vortex cascade, ensured that PV cores grew successively and contributed to the construction of an upright central monolithic PV core. The system-scale intensification (SSI) process active on the broader scale (300–500-km radius) also contributed. Latent heating slightly dominated adiabatic cooling within the bursts, which enhanced the system-scale secondary circulation. Convergence of low- to midlevel tropospheric absolute vorticity by this enhanced circulation intensified the system-scale vortex. The diabatic upscale vortex cascade and SSI are secondary processes dependent on the locally enhanced vorticity and heat respectively, generated by the primary mechanism.

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Noel E. Davidson, Yi Xiao, Yimin Ma, Harry C. Weber, Xudong Sun, Lawrie J. Rikus, Jeff D. Kepert, Peter X. Steinle, Gary S. Dietachmayer, Charlie C. F. Lok, James Fraser, Joan Fernon, and Hakeem Shaik

Abstract

The Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS) has been adapted for operational and research applications on tropical cyclones. The base system runs at a resolution of 0.11° and 50 levels. The domain is relocatable and nested in coarser-resolution ACCESS forecasts. Initialization consists of five cycles of four-dimensional variational data assimilation (4DVAR) over 24 h. Forecasts to 72 h are made. Without vortex specification, initial conditions usually contain a weak and misplaced circulation pattern. Significant effort has been devoted to building physically based, synthetic inner-core structures, validated using historical dropsonde data and surface analyses from the Atlantic. Based on estimates of central pressure and storm size, vortex specification is used to filter the analyzed circulation from the original analysis, construct an inner core of the storm, locate it to the observed position, and merge it with the large-scale analysis at outer radii.

Using all available conventional observations and only synthetic surface pressure observations from the idealized vortex to correct the initial location and structure of the storm, the 4DVAR builds a balanced, intense 3D vortex with maximum wind at the radius of maximum wind and with a well-developed secondary circulation. Mean track and intensity errors for Australian region and northwest Pacific storms have been encouraging, as are recent real-time results from the Australian National Meteorological and Oceanographic Centre. The system became fully operational in November 2011. From preliminary diagnostics, some interesting structure change features are illustrated. Current limitations, future enhancements, and research applications are also discussed.

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