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Yuzhu Lin and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Lasting updrafts are necessary to produce severe hail; conventional wisdom suggests that extremely large hailstones require updrafts of commensurate strength. Because updraft strength is largely controlled by convective available potential energy (CAPE), one would expect environments with larger CAPE to be conducive to storms producing larger hail. By systematically varying CAPE in a horizontally homogeneous initial environment, we simulate hail production in high-shear, high-instability supercell storms using Cloud Model 1 and a detailed 3D hail growth trajectory model. Our results suggest that CAPE modulates the updraft’s strength, width, and horizontal wind field, as well as the liquid water content along hailstones’ trajectories, all of which have a significant impact on final hail sizes. In particular, hail sizes are maximized for intermediate CAPE values in the range we examined. Results show a non-monotonic relationship between the hailstones’ residence time and CAPE due to changes to the updraft wind field. The ratio of updraft area to southerly wind speed within the updraft serves as a proxy for residence time. Storms in environments with large CAPE may produce smaller hail because the in-updraft horizontal wind speeds become too great, and hailstones are prematurely ejected out of the optimal growth region. Liquid water content (LWC) along favorable hailstone pathways also exhibits peak values for intermediate CAPE values, owing to the horizontal displacement across the midlevel updraft of moist inflow air from differing source levels. In other words, larger CAPE does not equal larger hail, and storm-structural nuances must be examined.

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Matthew R. Kumjian and Wiebke Deierling

ABSTRACT

Lightning flashes during snowstorms occur infrequently compared to warm-season convection. The rarity of such thundersnow events poses an additional hazard because the lightning is unexpected. Because cloud electrification in thundersnow storms leads to relatively few lightning discharges, studying thundersnow events may offer insights into mechanisms for charging and possible thresholds required for lightning discharges. Observations of four northern Colorado thundersnow events that occurred during the 2012/13 winter are presented. Four thundersnow events in one season strongly disagrees with previous climatologies that used surface reports, implying thundersnow may be more common than previously thought. Total lightning information from the Colorado Lightning Mapping Array and data from conterminous United States lightning detection networks are examined to investigate the snowstorms’ electrical properties and to compare them to typical warm-season thunderstorms. Data from polarimetric WSR-88Ds near Denver, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, are used to reveal the storms’ microphysical structure and determine operationally relevant signatures related to storm electrification. Most lightning occurred within convective cells containing graupel and pristine ice. However, one flash occurred in a stratiform snowband, apparently triggered by a tower. Depolarization streaks were observed in the radar data prior to the flash, indicating electric fields strong enough to orient pristine ice crystals. Direct comparisons of similar lightning- and nonlightning-producing convective cells reveal that though both cells likely produced graupel, the lightning-producing cell had larger values of specific differential phase and polarimetric radar–derived ice mass. Compared to warm-season thunderstorms, the analyzed thundersnow storms had similar electrical properties but lower flash rates and smaller vertical depths, suggesting they are weaker, ordinary thunderstorms lacking any warm (>0°C) cloud depth.

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Matthew R. Kumjian and Kelly Lombardo

Abstract

A detailed microphysical model of hail growth is developed and applied to idealized numerical simulations of deep convective storms. Hailstone embryos of various sizes and densities may be initialized in and around the simulated convective storm updraft, and then are tracked as they are advected and grow through various microphysical processes. Application to an idealized squall line and supercell storm results in a plausibly realistic distribution of maximum hailstone sizes for each. Simulated hail growth trajectories through idealized supercell storms exhibit many consistencies with previous hail trajectory work that used observed storms. Systematic tests of uncertain model parameters and parameterizations are performed, with results highlighting the sensitivity of hail size distributions to these changes. A set of idealized simulations is performed for supercells in environments with varying vertical wind shear to extend and clarify our prior work. The trajectory calculations reveal that, with increased zonal deep-layer shear, broader updrafts lead to increased residence time and thus larger maximum hail sizes. For cases with increased meridional low-level shear, updraft width is also increased, but hailstone sizes are smaller. This is a result of decreased residence time in the updraft, owing to faster northward flow within the updraft that advects hailstones through the growth region more rapidly. The results suggest that environments leading to weakened horizontal flow within supercell updrafts may lead to larger maximum hailstone sizes.

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Cameron R. Homeyer and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

The authors present observations of the microphysical characteristics of deep convection that overshoots the altitude of the extratropical tropopause from analysis of the polarimetric radar variables of radar reflectivity factor at horizontal polarization Z H, differential reflectivity Z DR, and specific differential phase K DP. Identified overshooting convective storms are separated by their organization and intensity into three classifications: organized convection, discrete ordinary convection, and discrete supercell convection. Composite analysis of identified storms for each classification reveals microphysical features similar to those found in previous studies of deep convection, with deep columns of highly positive Z DR and K DP representing lofting of liquid hydrometeors within the convective updraft and above the melting level. In addition, organized and discrete supercell classifications show distinct near-zero Z DR minima aligned horizontally with and at altitudes higher than the updraft column features, likely indicative of the frequent presence of large hail in each case. Composites for organized convective systems show a similar Z DR minimum throughout the portion of the convective core that is overshooting the tropopause, corresponding to Z H in the range of 15–30 dBZ and negative K DP observations, in agreement with the scattering properties of small hail and/or lump or conical graupel. Additional analyses of the evolution of overshooting storms reveals that the Z DR minima indicative of hail in the middle and upper troposphere and graupel in the overshooting top are associated with the mature and decaying stages of overshooting, respectively, supporting their inferred contributions to the observed polarimetric fields.

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Rachel E. Gutierrez and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Storms that produce gargantuan hail (defined here as ≥6 in. or 15 cm in maximum dimension), although seemingly rare, can cause extensive damage to property and infrastructure, and cause injury or even death to humans and animals. Currently, we are limited in our ability to accurately predict gargantuan hail and detect gargantuan hail on radar. In this study, we analyze the environmental and radar characteristics of gargantuan hail–producing storms to define the parameter space of environments in which gargantuan hail occurs, and compare environmental parameters and radar signatures in these storms to storms producing other sizes of hail. We find that traditionally used environmental parameters used for severe storm prediction, such as most unstable convective available potential energy (MUCAPE) and 0–6-km vertical wind shear, display considerable overlap between gargantuan hail–producing storm environments and those that produce smaller hail. There is a slight tendency for larger MUCAPE values for gargantuan hail cases, however. Additionally, gargantuan hail–producing storms seem to have larger low-level storm-relative winds and larger updraft widths than those storms producing smaller hail, implying updrafts less diluted by entrainment and perhaps maximizing the liquid water content available for hail growth. Moreover, radar reflectivity or products derived from it are not different from cases of smaller hail sizes. However, inferred mesocyclonic rotational velocities within the hail growth region of storms that produce gargantuan hail are significantly stronger than the rotational velocities found for smaller hail categories.

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Matthew R. Kumjian, Kelly Lombardo, and Scott Loeffler

Abstract

Hailstorms pose a significant socioeconomic risk, necessitating detailed assessments of how the hail threat changes throughout their lifetimes. Hail production involves the favorable juxtaposition of ingredients, but how storm evolution affects these ingredients is unknown, limiting understanding of how hail production evolves. Unfortunately, neither surface hail reports nor radar-based swath estimates have adequate resolution or details needed to assess evolving hail production. Instead, we use a novel approach of coupling a detailed hail trajectory model to idealized convective storm simulations to better understand storm evolution’s influence on hail production. Hail production varies substantially throughout storms’ mature phases: maximum sizes vary by a factor of 2 and the concentration of severe hail by more than fivefold during 45–60-min periods. This variability arises from changes in updraft properties, which come from (i) changes in low-level convergence and (ii) internal storm dynamics, including anticyclonic vortex shedding/storm splitting, and the response of the updraft’s airflow and supercooled liquid water content to these events. Hodograph shape strongly affects such behaviors. Straighter hodographs lead to more prolific hail production through wider updrafts and weaker mesocyclones and a periodicity in hail size metrics associated with anticyclonic vortex shedding and/or storm splitting. In contrast, a curved hodograph (favorable for tornadoes) led to a storm with a stronger but more compact updraft, which occasionally produced giant (10-cm) hail but that was a less-prolific severe hail producer overall. Unless storms are adequately sampled throughout their life cycles, snapshots from ground reports will insufficiently resolve the true nature of hail production.

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Matthew R. Kumjian and Alexander V. Ryzhkov

Abstract

The dual-polarization radar variables are especially sensitive to the microphysical processes of melting and size sorting of precipitation particles. In deep convective storms, polarimetric measurements of such processes can provide information about the airflow in and around the storm that may be used to elucidate storm behavior and evolution. Size sorting mechanisms include differential sedimentation, vertical transport, strong rotation, and wind shear. In particular, winds that veer with increasing height typical of supercell environments cause size sorting that is manifested as an enhancement of differential reflectivity (Z DR) along the right or inflow edge of the forward-flank downdraft precipitation echo, which has been called the Z DR arc signature. In some cases, this shear profile can be augmented by the storm inflow. It is argued that the magnitude of this enhancement is related to the low-level storm-relative environmental helicity (SRH) in the storm inflow.

To test this hypothesis, a simple numerical model is constructed that calculates trajectories for raindrops based on their individual sizes, which allows size sorting to occur. The modeling results indicate a strong positive correlation between the maximum Z DR in the arc signature and the low-level SRH, regardless of the initial drop size distribution aloft. Additional observational evidence in support of the conceptual model is presented. Potential changes in the Z DR arc signature as the supercell evolves and the low-level mesocyclone occludes are described.

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Robert S. Schrom and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Recent interest in interpreting polarimetric radar observations of ice and evaluating microphysical model output with these observations has highlighted the importance of accurately computing the scattering of microwave radiation by branched planar ice crystals. These particles are often represented as spheroids with uniform bulk density, reduced from that of solid ice to account for the complex, nonuniform structure of natural branched crystals. In this study, the potential errors that arise from this assumption are examined by comparing scattering calculations of branched planar crystals with those of homogeneous, reduced-density plate crystals and spheroids with the same mass, aspect ratio, and maximum dimension. The results show that this assumption leads to significant errors in backscatter cross sections at horizontal and vertical polarization, specific differential phase (K DP), and differential reflectivity (Z DR), with the largest Z DR errors for ice crystals with the most extreme aspect ratios (<0.01) and effective densities < 250 kg m−3. For example, the maximum errors in X-band Z DR are 4.5 dB for 5.6-mm branched planar crystals. However, substantial errors are present at all weather radar frequencies, with resonance scattering effects at Ka and W band amplifying the low-frequency errors. The implications of these results on the interpretation of polarimetric radar observations and forward modeling of the polarimetric radar variables from microphysical model output are discussed.

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Dana M. Tobin and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Recent studies document a polarimetric radar signature of refreezing. The signature is characterized by a low-level enhancement in differential reflectivity Z DR and a decrease in the copolar correlation coefficient ρ hv within a region of decreasing radar reflectivity factor at horizontal polarization Z H toward the ground, called the refreezing layer (RFL). The evolution of the signature is examined during three winter storms in which the surface precipitation-type transitions from ice pellets to freezing rain. A modified quasi-vertical profile (QVP) technique is developed, which creates inverse-distance-weighted profiles using all available polarimetric data within a specified range from the radar location. Using this new technique reveals that the RFL descends in time prior to the transition from ice pellets to freezing rain and intersects the ground at the approximate transition time. Transition times are estimated using both crowdsourced and automated precipitation-type reports within a specified domain around the radar. These radar-estimated transition times are compared to a recently developed precipitation-classification algorithm based on Rapid Refresh (RAP) model wet-bulb temperature T w profiles to explore potential benefits of analyzing QVPs during transition events. The descent of the RFL in the cases analyzed herein is related to low-level warm-air advection (WAA). A simple method for forecasting the transition time using QVPs is presented for cases of constant WAA. The repeatability of the refreezing signature’s descent in ice pellet to freezing rain transition events suggests the potential for its use in operational settings to create or modify short-term forecasts.

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Eli J. Dennis and Matthew R. Kumjian

Abstract

Severe hailstorms produce over $1 billion in insured losses annually in the United States, yet details of a given storm’s hail threat (e.g., maximum hailstone size and total hailfall) remain challenging to forecast. Previous research suggests that, in addition to maximum updraft speed, the storm-relative airflow could be equally important for hail formation and growth. This study is a first step toward determining how changes in environmental wind shear and subsequent changes in simulated supercell storm structure affect hail growth. Using Cloud Model 1 (CM1) with 500-m horizontal and 250-m vertical grid spacing, 20 idealized simulations are performed in which the thermodynamic profile remains fixed but the environmental hodograph is systematically altered. Hail growth is quantified using the hail mass mixing ratio from composites of storms over the last hour of simulation time. Hailstone growth “pseudotrajectories” are computed from these storm composites to determine favorable embryo source regions.

Results indicate that increased deep-layer east–west shear elongates the storm’s updraft in that direction, providing 1) increased volumes over which microphysically relevant hail processes can act, 2) increased hailstone residence times within the updraft, and 3) a larger potential embryo source region; together, these lead to increased hail mass. Increased low-level north–south shear, which results in hodographs with increased 0–3-km storm-relative helicity, also elongates the updraft in the north–south direction. However, hail mass is reduced owing to a separation of favorable embryo source regions (which shift southward) and available hydrometeors to serve as embryos (which shift northward).

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