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Paul O. Huss and Raymond C. Robinson
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Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba, and Paul Robinson

Direct observations of the winds inside a tornado were obtained with an instrumented armored vehicle, the Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV), and integrated with finescale mobile Doppler radar (Doppler on Wheels) data revealing, for the first time, the structure of the near-ground three-dimensional wind field in and around the core region of a strong tornado, and permitting comparison with conceptual models. Inward and upward spiraling near-surface flow, upward motion near the surface, and an axial downdraft aloft are documented, as well as a periodic oscillation in tornado intensity. Simultaneous video documentation of damage occurring during the tornado is related to the direct wind observations, permitting the first comparisons of the time history of damage to the time history of directly measured winds and a limited evaluation of the underlying assumptions and quantitative relationships in the enhanced Fujita (EF) scale.

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Robinson Wallace, Katja Friedrich, Evan A. Kalina, and Paul Schlatter

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Thunderstorms that produce surface hail accumulations, sometimes as large as 60 cm in depth, have significantly affected the residents of the Front Range and High Plains of Colorado and Wyoming by creating hazardous road conditions and endangering lives and property. To date, surface hail accumulation is not part of a routine forecasting or monitoring system. Extensive coordinated hail accumulation reports and operational products designed to identify deep hail accumulating storms in real time are lacking. Kalina et al. used dual-polarization WSR-88D radar observations to calculate hail depth and hail accumulations but never validated the algorithm. This study shows how 20 quality-controlled hail depth reports from the hail depth database built by the Colorado Hail Accumulation from Thunderstorms (CHAT) project are being used to validate the Kalina et al. radar-based hail accumulation algorithm for operational application. The validated algorithm shows increased correlations between radar-derived and reported accumulations for hail depth reports not included in the validation. Furthermore, increases in computational efficiency have allowed the improved algorithm to be used operationally. With an improved hail accumulation algorithm, thunderstorms that produce hail accumulations are more frequently detected than previously reported.

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Alan Shapiro, Paul Robinson, Joshua Wurman, and Jidong Gao

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An approximate (rapid scan) dynamical model for single-Doppler retrieval of the vector wind field is investigated. This approximate model is based on the Lagrangian form of the radial component of the equation of motion and is valid for retrieval time windows that are smaller than the effective timescale of the flow but larger than the product of the effective timescale and (nondimensional) relative error in the radial wind observations. The retrieval was tested with data gathered by two Doppler-on-Wheels mobile Doppler research radars of a cold front on 16 June 2000 near Grandfield, Oklahoma. Experiments focused on the impact of time resolution and the utility of a background constraint obtained from a volume velocity processing (VVP)-like estimate of the wind field. Retrieval error statistics were substantially improved as the volume scan intervals decreased from 5 min [characterizing the current Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) scan rates] down to 1 min. Use of the background constraint also improved the results, with superior results obtained in the high temporal resolution experiments when the background constraint was selectively imposed.

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Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba, Paul Robinson, and Tim Marshall

A large and violent tornado/multiple-vortex mesocyclone (MVMC) tracked east and northeastward near El Reno, Oklahoma, on 31 May 2013, causing eight fatalities, including storm chasers/researchers attempting to deploy in situ instrumentation. Subvortices moved within and near the MVMC, some in trochoidal-like patterns, with ground-relative translational velocities ranging from 0 to 79 m s−1, the fastest ever documented. Doppler on Wheels (DOW) measurements in one of these subvortices exceeded 115 m s−1 at 114 m AGL. With assumptions concerning radar-unobserved components of the velocity, peak wind speeds of 130–150 m s−1 are implied, comparable to the strongest ever measured. Only enhanced Fujita scale 3 (EF-3) damage was documented, likely because of a paucity of well-built structures and the most intense winds being confined to small, rapidly moving subvortices, resulting in only subsecond gusts. The region enclosing the maximum winds of the tornado/MVMC extended ~2 km. DOW-measured winds > 50 m s−1 (> 30 m s−1) extended far beyond the radius of maximum winds (RMW) extending >5 km (7 km), comparable to the widest ever documented. A strong multiple-vortex anticyclonic tornado with dual-polarization debris signatures is documented.

A subvortex tracking eastward within the larger tornado/MVMC intensified, moved north, and then moved northwestward, becoming briefly nearly stationary near/over a research team's vehicle, transporting it ~600 m generally eastward, killing the team. An experienced media team's vehicle was destroyed inside the tornado/MVMC, resulting in injuries. The circumstances leading to these incidents are analyzed using DOW data. The anomalous—and likely unpredictable in real time—path of the interior subvortex likely contributed to these deaths and injuries. The risks associated with chasing and scientific missions near and particularly inside large and complex MVMC/tornado vortices are discussed.

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Joshua Wurman, Curtis Alexander, Paul Robinson, and Yvette Richardson

Using an axisymmetric model of tornado structure tightly constrained by high-resolution wind field measurements collected by Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radars, the potential impacts of intense tornadoes crossing densely populated urban areas are evaluated. DOW radar measurements combined with in situ low-level wind measurements permit the quantification of low-level tornadic winds that would impact structures. Axisymmetric modeled wind fields from actual and hypothetical tornadoes are simulated to impact high-density residential and commercial districts of several major cities. U.S. census block data, satellite imagery, and other sources are used to characterize and count the number of structures impacted by intense winds, up to 132 m s−1, and estimate the level and cost of resulting damage. Census data are used to estimate residential occupancy and human casualties.

Results indicate that a large and intense tornado crossing through residential portions of Chicago, Illinois, could result in tragic consequences with winds in excess of 76 m s−1 impacting 99 km2 , substantially destroying up to 239,000 single-and dual-family housing units, occupied by up to 699,000 people, resulting in 4,500–45,000 deaths, and causing substantial damage to over 400,000 homes occupied by over 1,100,000 people. Widespread damage caused by winds exceeding 102 m s−1 could occur over a broad area of the high-rise office and apartment districts causing permanent structural damage to many such buildings. Smaller and less intense tornadoes would cause lesser, but still substantial, levels of damage and mortality. Tornadoes crossing Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; New York, New York; Saint Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, could cause varying levels of damage and mortality.

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Karen Kosiba, Joshua Wurman, Forrest J. Masters, and Paul Robinson

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Data collected from a Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radar deployed in Port Arthur, Texas, near the point of landfall of Hurricane Rita (2005) and from two Florida Coastal Monitoring Program 10-m weather stations (FCMP-WSs) are used to characterize wind field variability, including hurricane boundary layer (HBL) streaks/rolls, during the hurricane's passage. DOW data, validated against nearby weather station data, are combined with surface roughness fields derived from land-use mapping to produce fine spatial scale, two-dimensional maps of the 10 m above ground level (AGL) open-terrain exposure and exposure-influenced winds over Port Arthur. The DOW collected ~3000 low-elevation radar sweeps at 12-s intervals for >10 h during the passage of the hurricane. This study focuses on the 2–3-h period when the western eyewall passed over Port Arthur. Finescale HBL wind streaks are observed to have length scales of O(300 m), smaller than previously identified in other HBL studies. The HBL streaks are tracked as they pass over an FCMP-WS located in flat, open terrain and another FCMP-WS located near a subdivision. DOW data collected over the FCMP-WS are reduced to anemometer height, using roughness lengths calculated from DOW and FCMP-WS data. Variations in the radar-observed winds directly over the FCMP-WS are very well correlated, both in their timing and magnitude, with wind gusts observed by the weather stations, revealing directly for the first time the surface manifestation of these wind streaks that are observed frequently by radar >100 m AGL. This allows for the generation of spatially filled maps of small-scale wind fluctuations over Port Arthur during the hurricane eyewall's passage using DOW-measured winds.

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James Marquis, Yvette Richardson, Paul Markowski, David Dowell, Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba, Paul Robinson, and Glen Romine

Abstract

High-resolution Doppler radar velocities and in situ surface observations collected in a tornadic supercell on 5 June 2009 during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) are assimilated into a simulated convective storm using an ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF). A series of EnKF experiments using a 1-km horizontal model grid spacing demonstrates the sensitivity of the cold pool and kinematic structure of the storm to the assimilation of these observations and to different model microphysics parameterizations. An experiment is performed using a finer grid spacing (500 m) and the most optimal data assimilation and model configurations from the sensitivity tests to produce a realistically evolving storm. Analyses from this experiment are verified against dual-Doppler and in situ observations and are evaluated for their potential to confidently evaluate mesocyclone-scale processes in the storm using trajectory analysis and calculations of Lagrangian vorticity budgets. In Part II of this study, these analyses will be further evaluated to learn the roles that mesocyclone-scale processes play in tornado formation, maintenance, and decay. The coldness of the simulated low-level outflow is generally insensitive to the choice of certain microphysical parameterizations, likely owing to the vast quantity of kinematic and in situ thermodynamic observations assimilated. The three-dimensional EnKF wind fields and parcel trajectories resemble those retrieved from dual-Doppler observations within the storm, suggesting that realistic four-dimensional mesocyclone-scale processes are captured. However, potential errors are found in trajectories and Lagrangian three-dimensional vorticity budget calculations performed within the mesocyclone that may be due to the coarse (2 min) temporal resolution of the analyses. Therefore, caution must be exercised when interpreting trajectories in this area of the storm.

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Karen Kosiba, Joshua Wurman, Yvette Richardson, Paul Markowski, Paul Robinson, and James Marquis

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The genesis of a strong and long-lived tornado observed during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) in Goshen County, Wyoming, on 5 June 2009 is studied. Mobile radar, mobile mesonet, rawinsonde, and photographic data are used to produce an integrated analysis of the evolution of the wind, precipitation, and thermodynamic fields in the parent supercell to deduce the processes that resulted in tornadogenesis. Several minutes prior to tornadogenesis, the rear-flank downdraft intensifies, and a secondary rear-flank downdraft forms and cyclonically wraps around the developing tornado. Kinematic and thermodynamic analyses suggest that horizontal vorticity created in the forward flank and hook echo is tilted and then stretched near the developing tornado. Tilting and stretching are enhanced in the developing low-level circulation as the secondary rear-flank downdraft develops, intensifies, and wraps around the circulation center. Shortly thereafter, the tornado forms. Tornadogenesis does not proceed steadily. Strengthening, weakening, and renewed intensification of the tornado are documented in photographic, reflectivity, Doppler velocity, and dual-Doppler fields and are associated with, and shortly follow, changes in the secondary rear-flank downdraft, convergence, location of the vortex relative to the updraft/downdraft couplet, tilting and stretching near and in the developing tornado, and the evolution of total circulation.

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James Marquis, Yvette Richardson, Paul Markowski, Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba, and Paul Robinson

Abstract

Storm-scale and mesocyclone-scale processes occurring contemporaneously with a tornado in the Goshen County, Wyoming, supercell observed on 5 June 2009 during the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2) are examined using ensemble analyses produced by assimilating mobile radar and in situ observations into a high-resolution convection-resolving model. This paper focuses on understanding the evolution of the vertical structure of the storm, the outflow buoyancy, and processes affecting the vertical vorticity and circulation within the mesocyclone that correspond to changes in observed tornado intensity.

Tornadogenesis occurs when the low-level mesocyclone is least negatively buoyant relative to the environment, possesses its largest circulation, and is collocated with the largest azimuthally averaged convergence during the analysis period. The average buoyancy, circulation, and convergence within the near-surface mesocyclone (on spatial scales resolved by the model) all decrease as the tornado intensifies and matures. The tornado and its parent low-level mesocyclone both dissipate surrounded by a weakening rear-flank downdraft. The decreasing buoyancy of parcels within the low-level mesocyclone may partly be responsible for the weakening of the updraft surrounding the tornado and decoupling of the mid- and low-level circulation. Although the supply of horizontal vorticity generated in the forward flank of the storm increases throughout the life cycle of the tornado, it is presumably less easily tilted and stretched on the mesocyclone-scale during tornado maturity owing to the disruption of the low-level updraft/downdraft structure. Changes in radar-measured tornado intensity lag those of ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) mesocyclone vorticity and circulation.

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