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Michael C. Coniglio

Abstract

This study uses radiosonde observations obtained during the second phase of the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) to verify base-state variables and severe-weather-related parameters calculated from Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) analyses and 1-h forecasts, as well as those calculated from the operational surface objective analysis system used at the Storm Prediction Center (the SFCOA). The rapid growth in temperature, humidity, and wind errors from 0 to 1 h seen at all levels in a past RUC verification study by Benjamin et al. is not seen in the present study. This could be because the verification observations are also assimilated into the RUC in the Benjamin et al. study, whereas the verification observations in the present study are not. In the upper troposphere, the present study shows large errors in relative humidity, mostly related to a large moist bias. The planetary boundary layer tends to be too shallow in the RUC analyses and 1-h forecasts. Wind speeds tend to be too fast in the lowest 1 km and too slow in the 2–4-km layer. RUC and SFCOA 1-h forecast errors for many important severe weather parameters are large relative to their potential impact on convective evolution. However, the SFCOA significantly improves upon the biases seen in most of the 1-h RUC forecasts for the base-state surface variables and most of the other severe-weather-related parameters, indicating that the SFCOA has a more significant impact in reducing the biases in the 1-h RUC forecasts than on the root-mean-squared errors.

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Michael C. Coniglio
and
David J. Stensrud

Abstract

This study focuses on the progressive derecho, a widespread, convectively induced windstorm produced by a mesoscale convective system that often occurs within a relatively benign synoptic-scale environment. Sounding data from 12 progressive derechos, which occurred in weakly forced large-scale environments, are composited in order to examine important large-scale features in the preconvective environment. This analysis captures many features that are common in warm season derecho environments, such as an upper-level wind maximum, a relatively dry midtroposphere, and low-level warm advection. Initial and boundary conditions for the Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research fifth-generation Mesoscale Model (MM5) are created using this analysis. A three-dimensional, horizontally nonhomogeneous, explicitly resolved simulation of a progressive derecho is produced and compared to previous, more idealized simulations of similar convective systems that have been used to explain the strength and structure of observed long-lived squall lines and bow echoes.

A subset of previous squall line simulations produced within horizontally homogeneous environments without wind shear above 5 km suggests that a balance between the positive vorticity associated with the environmental low-level shear (Δu) and the negative vorticity created baroclinically at the leading edge of the cold pool (C) is the essential ingredient that determines the strength and time-dependent structure of long-lived squall lines (local balance theory). In the simulation presented here, which occurs in an environment with deep-tropospheric shear but relatively weak low-level shear, the model develops a realistic, rapidly moving squall line with embedded bow echoes that maintains its strength for much longer than the squall lines within previous idealized simulations that develop and evolve within similar less than optimal balance conditions (Cu > 2). Previous simulations of squall lines under similar less than optimal conditions contain updrafts that progressively weaken and become more upshear tilted with time as the cold pool surges ahead of the updrafts within 1–3 h after the system develops. However, the simulated squall line used here contains convective updrafts that remain almost directly above the gust front, maintains a nearly constant upshear tilt for several hours, and produces severe, near-surface winds for over 8 h. Examination of the maximum grid-resolved vertical velocity indicates that the cells are not weakening with time relative to their thermodynamic potential, which contrasts the behavior of the cells within the less than optimal squall lines of the previous, idealized simulations.

These results support the idea that local balance theory, which attempts to explain both the strength and longevity of squall lines, may be incomplete within environments that often favor warm season progressive derechos. In particular, tests with a simple two-dimensional cloud-scale model indicate that both significant upper-tropospheric shear above 5 km (which is found in the composite analysis and in the MM5 solution) and low-level shear play significant roles in maintaining the strength of squall lines over long periods and need to be considered in order to fully understand and forecast these events.

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Michael C. Coniglio
and
David J. Stensrud

Abstract

Past studies have examined the climatology of derechos and suggest very different distributions of derechos within the United States. This uncertainty in the climatology of derechos is a concern for forecasters, since knowledge of the relevant climatological information is a key piece in the forecast process. A 16-yr dataset from 1986 to 2001 is used to examine the effects that changing the method of identifying derechos may have on the interpretation of the derecho climatology. In addition, an attempt is made to visualize the favored regions of particularly intense derecho events.

The results show aspects seen in earlier climatologies, including a southern axis in the southern plains that is favored in the mid-1980s and early 1990s and a northern axis centered from the upper Mississippi River valley into Ohio that is favored in more recent years. However, altering the criteria to not require three 33 m s−1 gust reports or F1-type damage (low-end events) significantly increases the number of events that are identified in the lower Appalachians, the Ohio valley, and in portions of the southern axis, particularly in the earlier period. To a lesser extent, the inclusion of low-end events also increases the frequency values in the northern axis in the later period. The overall effect of including the low-end events is to create a distribution that still suggests both a southern and northern axis, and a shift of the primary axis from the southern plains in the early period to the upper Mississippi valley in the later period. However, the frequency values of the maxima are noticeably reduced when the low-end events are excluded. Therefore, both the length of the dataset and the criteria used to define derechos can significantly influence the resulting climatology.

High-end derechos, which require three wind gust reports (or comparable damage) exceeding 38 m s−1, appear to be favored in the northern corridor during the warm season, particularly in the later period, and are favored along the lower Mississippi River valley during the colder months in both periods.

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Diego A. Alfaro
and
Michael C. Coniglio

Abstract

The environmental factors that drive the dissipation of linear severe-wind-producing mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are investigated. Layer-lifting indices are emphasized, which measure convective instability in forward-propagating MCSs by considering that deep convective latent heating depends on 1) the potential latent heating within the atmospheric column, measured by the integrated CAPE (ICAPE), and 2) the dilution of buoyancy due to midtropospheric inflow, measured by the inflow fraction (IF) of convectively unstable air to total system-relative inflow. These elements are integrated to define the layer-lifting CAPE (CAPEll), which depends on environmental thermodynamics, kinematics, and the MCS’s movement vector. Radar reflectivity plots are used to subjectively identify and classify MCSs in terms of their stage (mature or dissipating) and degree of organization (highly or weakly organized). Nonparametric statistical inferences are performed on several metrics computed at maturity and dissipation from RUC/RAP analysis data, aiming to identify the most skillful indices for diagnosing three different aspects of MCS dissipation: 1) the transition from maturity to dissipation, 2) the stage of an MCS, and 3) the disorganization that characterizes the dissipating stage. In terms of MCS dissipation CAPEll is the best diagnostic. A close approximation to CAPEll is accomplished by estimating an MCS’s movement with Corfidi vectors, providing a potentially useful index in operational settings. ICAPE is the most skillful thermodynamic metric, while IF is the best kinematic discriminator of MCS stage and stage transition, suggesting the fundamental importance of layer-lifting convective instability for MCS maintenance. Layer-lifting indices are not particularly skillful at distinguishing the degree of MCS organization at maturity, which is best diagnosed by deep vertical wind shear.

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Michael C. Coniglio
and
Matthew D. Parker

Abstract

Hundreds of supercell proximity soundings obtained for field programs over the central United States are analyzed to reconcile differences in recent studies and to refine our knowledge of supercell environments. The large, storm-centric observation-based dataset and high vertical resolution of the sounding data provide an unprecedented look at supercell environments. Not surprisingly, storm-relative environmental helicity (SRH) is found to be larger in tornadic soundings than in nontornadic soundings. The primary finding that departs from previous studies is that storm-relative winds contribute substantially to the larger SRH. Stronger ground-relative winds and more rightward-deviant storm motions contribute to the larger storm-relative winds for the tornadic soundings. Spatial analyses of the soundings reveal lower near-ground pressure perturbations and stronger low- to midlevel cyclonic flow for the tornadic soundings, which suggests stronger mesocyclones, perhaps explaining the more rightward-deviant motions. Differences in the mean critical angle between the tornadic and nontornadic soundings are small and do not contribute to the larger mean SRH, but the tornadic soundings do have fewer instances of smaller (<60°) critical angles. Furthermore, the critical angle is shown to be a function of azimuth from the updraft. Other results include a low-to-the-ground (~250 m on average) hodograph kink for both the tornadic and nontornadic soundings and few notable differences in thermodynamic quantities, except for the expected lower LCLs related to higher RH for the tornadic soundings, somewhat smaller 0–3 km lapse rates in tornadic environments related to weaker/shallower capping inversions, and larger 0–3 km CAPE in near-field environments.

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Matthew D. Flournoy
and
Michael C. Coniglio

Abstract

To better understand and forecast nocturnal thunderstorms and their hazards, an expansive network of fixed and mobile observing systems was deployed in the summer of 2015 for the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field experiment to observe low-level jets, convection initiation, bores, and mesoscale convective systems. On 5–6 July 2015, mobile radars and ground-based surface and upper-air profiling systems sampled a nocturnal, quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) over South Dakota. The QLCS produced several severe wind reports and an EF-0 tornado. The QLCS and its environment leading up to the mesovortex that produced this tornado were well observed by the PECAN observing network. In this study, observations from radiosondes, Doppler radars, and aircraft are assimilated into an ensemble analysis and forecasting system to analyze this event with a focus on the development of the observed tornadic mesovortex. All ensemble members simulated low-level mesovortices with one member in particular generating two mesovortices in a manner very similar to that observed. Forecasts from this member were analyzed to examine the processes increasing vertical vorticity during the development of the tornadic mesovortex. Cyclonic vertical vorticity was traced to three separate airstreams: the first from southerly inflow that was characterized by tilting of predominantly crosswise horizontal vorticity along the gust front, the second from the north that imported streamwise horizontal vorticity directly into the low-level updraft, and the third from a localized downdraft/rear-inflow jet in which the horizontal vorticity became streamwise during descent. The cyclonic vertical vorticity then intensified rapidly through intense stretching as the parcels entered the low-level updraft of the developing mesovortex.

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Michael C. Coniglio
and
Ryan E. Jewell

Abstract

A total of 257 supercell proximity soundings obtained for field programs over the central United States are compared with profiles extracted from the SPC mesoscale analysis system (the SFCOA) to understand how errors in the SFCOA and in its baseline model analysis system—the RUC/RAP—might impact climatological assessments of supercell environments. A primary result is that the SFCOA underestimates the low-level storm-relative winds and wind shear, a clear consequence of the lack of vertical resolution near the ground. The near-ground (≤500 m) wind shear is underestimated similarly in near-field, far-field, tornadic, and nontornadic supercell environments. The near-ground storm-relative winds, however, are underestimated the most in the near-field and in tornadic supercell environments. Underprediction of storm-relative winds is, therefore, a likely contributor to the lack of differences in storm-relative winds between nontornadic and tornadic supercell environments in past studies that use RUC/RAP-based analyses. Furthermore, these storm-relative wind errors could lead to an under emphasis of deep-layer SRH variables relative to shallower SRH in discriminating nontornadic from tornadic supercells. The mean critical angles are 5°–15° larger and farther from 90° in the observed soundings than in the SFCOA, particularly in the near field, likely indicating that the ratio of streamwise to crosswise horizontal vorticity is often smaller than that suggested by the SFCOA profiles. Errors in thermodynamic variables are less prevalent, but show low-level CAPE to be too low closer to the storms, a dry bias above the boundary layer, and the absence of shallow near-ground stable layers that are much more prevalent in tornadic supercell environments.

Significance Statement

A total of 257 radiosonde observations taken close to supercell thunderstorms during field programs over the last 25 years are compared with a model-based analysis system (the SFCOA), which is often used for studying supercell thunderstorm environments. We present error characteristics of the SFCOA as they relate to tornado production and distance to the storm to clarify interpretations of environments favorable for tornado production made from past studies that use the SFCOA. A primary result is that the SFCOA underpredicts the speed and shear of the air flowing toward the storm in many cases, which may lead to different interpretations of variables that are most important for discriminating tornadic from nontornadic supercell thunderstorms. These results help to refine our understanding of the conditions that support tornado formation, which provides guidance on environmental cues that can improve the prediction of supercell tornadoes.

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Max D. Ungar
and
Michael C. Coniglio

Abstract

A technique used widely to forecast the potential for QLCS mesovortices is known as the “Three Ingredients Method” (3IM). The 3IM states that mesovortices are favored where 1) the QLCS cold pool and ambient low-level shear are said to be nearly balanced or slightly shear dominant, 2) where the component of the 0–3-km wind shear normal to the convective line is ≥30 kt (1 kt ≈ 0.51 m s−1), and 3) where a rear-inflow jet or enhanced outflow causes a surge or bow along the convective line. Despite its widespread use in operational settings, this method has received little evaluation in formal literature. To evaluate the 3IM, radiosonde observations are compared to radar-observed QLCS properties. The distance between the gust front and high reflectivity in the leading convective line (the “U-to-R distance”), the presence of rear-inflow surges, and mesovortices (MVs) were each assessed across 1820 line segments within 50 observed QLCSs. Although 0–3-km line-normal wind shear is statistically different between MV-genesis and null segments, values are ≤30 kt for 44% of MV-genesis segments. The 0–6-km line-normal wind shear also shows strong discrimination between MV-genesis and null segments and displays the best linear relationship of the U-to-R distance (a measure of system balance) among layers tested, although the scatter and overlap in distributions suggest that many factors can impact MV genesis (as expected). Overall, most MVs occur where the U-to-R distance lies between −5 and 5 km in the presence of a rear-inflow surge, along with positive 0–1-km wind shear, 0–3-km wind shear > 10 kt, and 0–6-km wind shear > 20 kt (all line-normal).

Significance Statement

Near the leading edge of thunderstorm lines, areas of rotation that can produce tornadoes and strong winds (“mesovortices”) often develop rapidly. Despite advances in understanding mesovortices, few operational guidelines exist to anticipate their genesis. One popular method used to forecast mesovortices—the “Three Ingredients Method”—is evaluated in this study. Our work confirms the importance of two of the ingredients—a surge of outflow winds and thunderstorms that stay nearly atop the leading edge of the outflow. However, we find that many mesovortices occur below the threshold of low-level wind shear ascribed by the forecast method. Refinements to the method are suggested, including the favorable distance between the leading edge of the outflow and thunderstorm updrafts and lower bounds of wind shear over multiple layers, below which mesovortices may be unlikely.

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Benjamin A. Schenkel
,
Roger Edwards
, and
Michael Coniglio

Abstract

The cyclone-relative location and variability in the number of tornadoes among tropical cyclones (TCs) are not completely understood. A key understudied factor that may improve our understanding is ambient (i.e., synoptic-scale) deep-tropospheric (i.e., 850–200-hPa) vertical wind shear (VWS), which impacts both the symmetry and strength of deep convection in TCs. This study conducts a climatological analysis of VWS impacts upon tornadoes in TCs from 1995 to 2018, using observed TC and tornado data together with radiosondes. TC tornadoes were classified by objectively defined VWS categories, derived from reanalyses, to quantify the sensitivity of tornado frequency, location, and their environments to VWS. The analysis shows that stronger VWS is associated with enhanced rates of tornado production—especially more damaging ones. Tornadoes also become localized to the downshear half of the TC as VWS strengthens, with tornado location in strongly sheared TCs transitioning from the downshear-left quadrant in the TC inner core to the downshear-right quadrant in the TC outer region. Analysis of radiosondes shows that the downshear-right quadrant in strongly sheared TCs is most frequently associated with sufficiently strong near-surface speed shear and veering aloft, and lower-tropospheric thermodynamic instability for tornadoes. These supportive kinematic environments may be due to the constructive superposition of the ambient and TC winds, and the VWS-induced downshear enhancement of the TC circulation among other factors. Together, this work provides a basis for improving forecasts of TC tornado frequency and location.

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Benjamin A. Schenkel
,
Michael Coniglio
, and
Roger Edwards

Abstract

This work investigates how the relationship between tropical cyclone (TC) tornadoes and ambient (i.e., synoptic-scale) deep-tropospheric (i.e., 850–200-hPa) vertical wind shear (VWS) varies between coastal and inland environments. Observed U.S. TC tornado track data are used to study tornado frequency and location, while dropsonde and radiosonde data are used to analyze convective-scale environments. To study the variability in the TC tornado–VWS relationship, these data are categorized by both 1) their distance from the coast and 2) reanalysis-derived VWS magnitude. The analysis shows that TCs produce coastal tornadoes regardless of VWS magnitude primarily in their downshear sector, with tornadoes most frequently occurring in strongly sheared cases. Inland tornadoes, including the most damaging cases, primarily occur in strongly sheared TCs within the outer radii of the downshear-right quadrant. Consistent with these patterns, dropsondes and coastal radiosondes show that the downshear-right quadrant of strongly sheared TCs has the most favorable combination of enhanced lower-tropospheric near-surface speed shear and veering, and reduced lower-tropospheric thermodynamic stability for tornadic supercells. Despite the weaker intensity farther inland, these kinematic conditions are even more favorable in inland environments within the downshear-right quadrant of strongly sheared TCs, due to the strengthened veering of the ambient winds and the lack of changes in the TC outer tangential wind field strength. The constructive superposition of the ambient and TC winds may be particularly important to inland tornado occurrence. Together, these results will allow forecasters to anticipate how the frequency and location of tornadoes and, more broadly, convection may change as TCs move inland.

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