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Cameron J. Nixon and John T. Allen

Abstract

The paths of tornadoes have long been a subject of fascination since the meticulously drawn damage tracks by Dr. Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita. Though uncommon, some tornadoes have been noted to take sudden left turns from their previous path. This has the potential to present an extreme challenge to warning lead time, and the spread of timely, accurate information to broadcasters and emergency managers. While a few hypotheses exist as to why tornadoes deviate, none have been tested for their potential use in operational forecasting and nowcasting. As a result, such deviations go largely unanticipated by forecasters. A sample of 102 leftward deviant tornadic low-level mesocyclones was tracked via WSR-88D and assessed for their potential predictability. A simple hodograph technique is presented that shows promising skill in predicting the motion of deviant tornadoes, which, upon “occlusion,” detach from the parent storm’s updraft centroid and advect leftward or rearward by the low-level wind. This metric, a vector average of the parent storm motion and the mean wind in the lowest half-kilometer, proves effective at anticipating deviant tornado motion with a median error of less than 6 kt (1 kt ≈ 0.51 m s−1). With over 25% of analyzed low-level mesocyclones deviating completely out of the tornado warning polygon issued by their respective National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, the adoption of this new technique could improve warning performance. Furthermore, with over 35% of tornadoes becoming “deviant” almost immediately upon formation, the ability to anticipate such events may inspire a new paradigm for tornado warnings that, when covering unpredictable behavior, are proactive instead of reactive.

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Maria J. Molina and John T. Allen

Abstract

Tornadic thunderstorms rely on the availability of sufficient low-level moisture, but the source regions of that moisture have not been explicitly demarcated. Using the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory HYSPLIT model and a Lagrangian-based diagnostic, moisture attribution was conducted to identify the moisture source regions of tornadic convection. This study reveals a seasonal cycle in the origins and advection patterns of water vapor contributing to winter and spring tornado-producing storms (1981–2017). The Gulf of Mexico is shown to be the predominant source of moisture during both winter and spring, making up more than 50% of all contributions. During winter, substantial moisture contributions for tornadic convection also emanate from the western Caribbean Sea (>19%) and North Atlantic Ocean (>12%). During late spring, land areas (e.g., soil and vegetation) of the contiguous United States (CONUS) play a more influential role (>24%). Moisture attribution was also conducted for nontornadic cases and tornado outbreaks. Findings show that moisture sources of nontornadic events are more proximal to the CONUS than moisture sources of tornado outbreaks. Oceanic influences on the water vapor content of air parcels were also explored to determine if they can increase the likelihood of an air mass attaining moisture that will eventually contribute to severe thunderstorms. Warmer sea surface temperatures were generally found to enhance evaporative fluxes of overlying air parcels. The influence of atmospheric features on synoptic-scale moisture advection was also analyzed; stronger extratropical cyclones and Great Plains low-level jet occurrences lead to increased meridional moisture flux.

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Ryan Lagerquist, John T. Allen, and Amy McGovern

Abstract

This paper describes the development and analysis of an objective climatology of warm and cold fronts over North America from 1979 to 2018. Fronts are detected by a convolutional neural network (CNN), trained to emulate fronts drawn by human meteorologists. Predictors for the CNN are surface and 850-hPa fields of temperature, specific humidity, and vector wind from the ERA5 reanalysis. Gridded probabilities from the CNN are converted to 2D frontal regions, which are used to create the climatology. Overall, warm and cold fronts are most common in the Pacific and Atlantic cyclone tracks and the lee of the Rockies. In contrast with prior research, we find that the activity of warm and cold fronts is significantly modulated by the phase and intensity of El Niño–Southern Oscillation. The influence of El Niño is significant for winter warm fronts, winter cold fronts, and spring cold fronts, with activity decreasing over the continental United States and shifting northward with the Pacific and Atlantic cyclone tracks. Long-term trends are generally not significant, although we find a poleward shift in frontal activity during the winter and spring, consistent with prior research. We also identify a number of regional patterns, such as a significant long-term increase in warm fronts in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which are characterized almost entirely by moisture gradients rather than temperature gradients.

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John T. Allen, Edwina R. Allen, Harald Richter, and Chiara Lepore

Abstract

During 2013, multiple tornadoes occurred across Australia, leading to 147 injuries and considerable damage. This prompted speculation as to the frequency of these events in Australia, and whether 2013 constituted a record year. Leveraging media reports, public accounts and the Bureau of Meteorology observational record, sixty-nine tornadoes were identified for the year in comparison to the official count of thirty-seven events. This identified set and the existing historical record were used to establish that, in terms of spatial distribution, 2013 was not abnormal relative to the existing climatology, but numerically exceeded any year in the Bureau record. Evaluation of the environments in which these tornadoes formed illustrated that these conditions included tornado environments found elsewhere globally, but generally had a stronger dependence on shear magnitude than direction, and lower lifted condensation levels. Relative to local environment climatology, 2013 was also not anomalous. These results illustrate a range of tornadoes associated with cool season, tropical cyclone, East Coast low, supercell tornado and low shear/storm merger environments. Using this baseline, the spatial climatology from 1980-2019 as derived from the non-conditional frequency of favorable significant tornado parameter environments for the year is used to highlight that observations are likely an underestimation. Applying the results, discussion is made of the need to expand observing practices, climatology, forecasting guidelines for operational prediction, and improve the warning system. This highlights a need to ensure that the general public is appropriately informed of the tornado hazard in Australia, and provide them with the understanding to respond accordingly.

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John T. Allen, Alexandre B. Pezza, and Mitchell T. Black

Abstract

A global climatology for rapid cyclone intensification has been produced from the second NCEP reanalysis (NCEP2), the 25-yr Japanese Reanalysis (JRA-25), and the ECMWF reanalyses over the period 1979–2008. An improved (combined) criterion for identifying explosive cyclones has been developed based on preexisting definitions, offering a more balanced, normalized climatological distribution. The combined definition was found to significantly alter the population of explosive cyclones, with a reduction in “artificial” systems, which are found to compose 20% of the population determined by earlier definitions. Seasonally, winter was found to be the dominant formative period in both hemispheres, with a lower degree of interseasonal variability in the Southern Hemisphere (SH). Considered over the period 1979–2008, little change is observed in the frequency of systems outside of natural interannual variability in either hemisphere. Significant statistical differences have been found between reanalyses in the SH, while in contrast the Northern Hemisphere (NH) was characterized by strong positive correlations between reanalyses in almost all examined cases. Spatially, explosive cyclones are distributed into several distinct regions, with two regions in the northwest Pacific and the North Atlantic in the NH and three main regions in the SH. High-resolution and modern reanalysis data were also found to increase the climatology population of rapidly intensifying systems. This indicates that the reanalyses have apparently undergone increasing improvements in consistency over time, particularly in the SH.

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John C. Carstens, Allen Williams, and Joseph T. Zung

Abstract

The interaction of two growing droplets in a supersaturated atmosphere has been examined, and the temperature and vapor density profiles have been determined. It is found that the smaller droplet tends to “catch up” with the larger at a slower rate than predicted by conventional diffusion theory. Consideration of droplet fallspeeds leads to the conclusion that, under atmospheric conditions, growth interaction becomes significant only for droplet “pairs” having equal or nearly equal radii. The number of such pairs is generally small enough so that the effect on the size distribution is quite small. Of a much greater importance is the possibility of a resulting attractive diffusio-phoretic force between two growing drops which, in turn, gives rise to a net velocity of one drop toward the other. If this diffusion force of attraction becomes sufficiently strong to overcome the hydrodynamic and thermo-phoretic forces acting in the opposite direction, both collision efficiencies and coagulation of small droplets could be further enhanced, thus accounting for departures from monodispersity in actual atmospheric clouds.

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Chiara Lepore, Michael K. Tippett, and John T. Allen

Abstract

Climate Forecast System, version 2, predictions of monthly U.S. severe thunderstorm activity are analyzed for the period 1982–2016. Forecasts are based on a tornado environmental index and a hail environmental index, which are functions of monthly averaged storm relative helicity (SRH), convective precipitation (cPrcp), and convective available potential energy (CAPE). Overall, forecast indices reproduce well the annual cycle of tornado and hail events. Forecast index biases are mostly negative and caused by environment values that are low east of the Rockies, although forecast CAPE is higher than the reanalysis values over the High Plains. Skill is diagnosed spatially for the indices and their constituents separately. SRH is more skillfully forecast than cPrcp and CAPE, especially during December–June. The spatial patterns of forecast skill for CAPE and cPrcp are similar, with higher skill for CAPE and less spatial coherence for cPrcp. The indices are forecast with substantially less skill than the environmental parameters. Numbers of tornado and hail events are forecast with modest but statistically significant skill in some NOAA regions and months of the year. Skill tends to be relatively higher for hail events and in climatologically active seasons and regions. Much of the monthly skill appears to be derived from the first 2 weeks of the forecast. El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) modulates forecasts and, to a lesser extent, forecast skill, during March–May, with more activity and higher skill during cool ENSO conditions.

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Maria J. Molina, John T. Allen, and Vittorio A. Gensini

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) influence winter tornado variability and significant tornado (EF2+, where EF is the enhanced Fujita scale) environments. Increases occur in the probability of a significant tornado environment from the southern Great Plains to the Midwest during La Niña, and across the southern contiguous United States (CONUS) during El Niño. Winter significant tornado environments are absent across Florida, Georgia, and the coastal Carolinas during moderate-to-strong La Niña events. Jet stream modulation by ENSO contributes to higher tornado totals during El Niño in December and La Niña in January, especially when simultaneous with a warm GoM. ENSO-neutral phases yield fewer and weaker tornadoes, but proximity to warm GoM climate features can enhance the probability of a significant tornado environment. ENSO intensity matters; stronger ENSO phases generate increases in tornado frequency and the probability of a significant tornado environment, but are characterized by large variance, in which very strong El Niño and La Niña events can produce unfavorable tornado climatological states. This study suggests that it is a feasible undertaking to expand spring seasonal and subseasonal tornado prediction efforts to encompass the winter season, which is of importance given the notable threat posed by winter tornadoes. Significant tornadoes account for 95% of tornado fatalities and winter tornadoes are rated significant more frequently than during other seasons.

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Maria J. Molina, John T. Allen, and Andreas F. Prein

Abstract

The tornado outbreak of 21–23 January 2017 caused 20 fatalities, more than 200 injuries, and over a billion dollars in damage in the Southeast United States. The event occurred concurrently with a record-breaking warm Gulf of Mexico (GoM) basin. This article explores the influence that warm GoM sea surface temperatures (SSTs) had on the tornado outbreak. Backward trajectory analysis, combined with a Lagrangian-based moisture-attribution algorithm, reveals that the tornado outbreak’s moisture predominantly originated from the southeast GoM and the northwest Caribbean Sea. We used the WRF Model to generate a control simulation of the event and explore the response to perturbed SSTs. With the aid of a tornadic storm proxy derived from updraft helicity, we show that the 21–23 January 2017 tornado outbreak exhibits sensitivity to upstream SSTs during the first day of the event. Warmer SSTs across remote moisture sources and adjacent waters increase tornado frequency, in contrast to cooler SSTs, which reduce tornado activity. Upstream SST sensitivity is reduced once convection is ongoing and modifying local moisture and instability availability. Our results highlight the importance of air–sea interactions before airmass advection toward the continental United States. The complex and nonlinear nature of the relationship between upstream SSTs and local precursor environments is also discussed.

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Álvaro Viúdez, Robert L. Haney, and John T. Allen

Abstract

Horizontal current and density data fields are analyzed in order to validate, from an experimental point of view, the contribution of the advective and Coriolis accelerations and the hydrostatic pressure gradient term to the balance of horizontal momentum. The relative importance of the vertical advection of horizontal velocity in this balance is estimated by solving the quasigeostrophic (QG) omega equation. The analysis of the balance of horizontal momentum is carried out using data from three consecutive high-resolution samplings of the Atlantic jet (AJ) and western Alboran gyre (WAG) on the eastern side of the Strait of Gibraltar.

The horizontal velocity reached maximum values of 1.30 m s−1 in the AJ at the surface. The ageostrophic velocity field reaches maximum absolute values of 30 cm s−1 at the surface, thus confirming the supergeostrophic nature of the AJ. At the surface the pressure gradient term reaches absolute values of 8–10 (×10−5 m s−2), the Coriolis acceleration 10–12 (×10−5 m s−2), and the advective horizontal acceleration 3 × 10−5 m s−2. The vertical advection of horizontal velocity by the QG vertical velocity at 100 m is one order of magnitude smaller [O(10−6 m s−2)].

The geostrophic imbalance (difference between the pressure gradient term and the Coriolis acceleration) reaches 5 × 10−5 m s−2 at the surface. The gradient imbalance (defined as the difference between the pressure gradient term and the Coriolis plus advective accelerations) is smaller than the geostrophic imbalance (being of order 2.5 × 10−5 m s−2) making gradient balance the best estimate of the balance of horizontal momentum given the characteristics (synopticity and experimental errors) of the analyzed dataset.

The gradient imbalance is not uniform in the horizontal but rather is larger in the AJ than in the WAG. From this result it is inferred that the AJ current experiences larger variations (larger local acceleration) than the WAG current.

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