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John M. Peters
and
Daniel R. Chavas

Abstract

It is often assumed in parcel theory calculations, numerical models, and cumulus parameterizations that moist static energy (MSE) is adiabatically conserved. However, the adiabatic conservation of MSE is only approximate because of the assumption of hydrostatic balance. Two alternative variables are evaluated here: MSE − IB and MSE + KE, wherein IB is the path integral of buoyancy (B) and KE is kinetic energy. Both of these variables relax the hydrostatic assumption and are more precisely conserved than MSE. This article quantifies the errors that result from assuming that the aforementioned variables are conserved in large-eddy simulations (LES) of both disorganized and organized deep convection. Results show that both MSE − IB and MSE + KE better predict quantities along trajectories than MSE alone. MSE − IB is better conserved in isolated deep convection, whereas MSE − IB and MSE + KE perform comparably in squall-line simulations. These results are explained by differences between the pressure perturbation behavior of squall lines and isolated convection. Errors in updraft B diagnoses are universally minimized when MSE − IB is assumed to be adiabatically conserved, but only when moisture dependencies of heat capacity and temperature dependency of latent heating are accounted for. When less accurate latent heat and heat capacity formulae were used, MSE − IB yielded poorer B predictions than MSE due to compensating errors. Our results suggest that various applications would benefit from using either MSE − IB or MSE + KE instead of MSE with properly formulated heat capacities and latent heats.

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R. R. Rogers
,
M-F. Lamoureux
,
L. R. Bissonnette
, and
R. M. Peters

Abstract

The authors have used a commercially available laser ceilometer to measure vertical profiles of the optical extinction in rain. This application requires special signal processing to correct the raw data for the effects of receiver noise, high-pass filtering, and the incomplete overlap of the transmitted beam with the receiver field of view at close range. The calibration constant of the ceilometer, denoted by C, is determined from the profile of the corrected returned power in conditions of moderate attenuation in which the power is completely extinguished over a distance on the order of 1 km. In this determination, the value of the backscatter-to-extinction ratio k of the scattering medium must be specified and an allowance made for the effects of multiple scattering. These requirements impose an uncertainty on C that can amount to ±50%. An alternative to determining the calibration constant is explained, which does not require specifying k, although it assumes that k is constant with height. Using this alternative approach, the authors have estimated many extinction profiles in rain and compared them with radar reflectivity profiles measured with a UHF boundary layer wind profiler. The values of the extinction coefficient in the examples shown in this paper range from about 2 to 12 km−1 and are generally larger than the values inferred from the radar reflectivity of the rain. The implication is that aerosol particles and cloud drops, which are not visible to the radar, are important in determining the optical extinction in rain in these examples.

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John M. Peters
,
Jake P. Mulholland
, and
Daniel R. Chavas

Abstract

Common assumptions in temperature lapse rate formulas for lifted air parcels include neglecting mixing, hydrostatic balance, the removal of all condensate once it forms (pseudoadiabatic), and/or the retention of all condensate within the parcel (adiabatic). These formulas are commonly derived from the conservation of entropy, which leads to errors when nonequilibrium mixed-phase condensate is present. To evaluate these assumptions, a new general lapse rate formula is derived from an expression for energy conservation, rather than entropy conservation. This new formula incorporates mixing of the parcel with its surroundings, relaxes the hydrostatic assumption, allows for nonequilibrium mixed-phase condensate, and can be formulated for pseudoadiabatic or adiabatic ascent. The new formula is shown to exactly conserve entropy for reversible ascent. Predictions by the new formula are compared to that of older and less general formulas. The errors in previous formulas arise from the assumption of hydrostatic balance, which results in considerable warm biases due to the neglect of the energy sink from buoyancy. Predictions of ascent with entrainment using the new formula are then compared to parcel properties along trajectories in large eddy simulations. Simulated parcel properties are better predicted by the formula using a diluted analogy to adiabatic ascent, wherein condensate is diluted at the same rate as other parcel properties, than by the diluted analogy to pseudoadiabatic ascent, wherein all condensate is removed. These results suggest that CAPE should be computed with adiabatic, rather than pseudoadiabatic, parcel ascent.

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Erik R. Nielsen
,
Gregory R. Herman
,
Robert C. Tournay
,
John M. Peters
, and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

While both tornadoes and flash floods individually present public hazards, when the two threats are both concurrent and collocated (referred to here as TORFF events), unique concerns arise. This study aims to evaluate the climatological and meteorological characteristics associated with TORFF events over the continental United States. Two separate datasets, one based on overlapping tornado and flash flood warnings and the other based on observations, were used to arrive at estimations of the instances when a TORFF event was deemed imminent and verified to have occurred, respectively. These datasets were then used to discern the geographical and meteorological characteristics of recent TORFF events. During 2008–14, TORFF events were found to be publicly communicated via overlapping warnings an average of 400 times per year, with a maximum frequency occurring in the lower Mississippi River valley. Additionally, 68 verified TORFF events between 2008 and 2013 were identified and subsequently classified based on synoptic characteristics and radar observations. In general, synoptic conditions associated with TORFF events were found to exhibit similar characteristics of typical tornadic environments, but the TORFF environment tended to be moister and have stronger synoptic-scale forcing for ascent. These results indicate that TORFF events occur with appreciable frequency and in complex meteorological scenarios. Furthermore, despite these identified differences, TORFF scenarios are not easily distinguishable from tornadic events that fail to produce collocated flash flooding, and present difficult challenges both from the perspective of forecasting and public communication.

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Erik R. Nielsen
,
Gregory R. Herman
,
Robert C. Tournay
,
John M. Peters
, and
Russ S. Schumacher
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John M. Peters
,
Erik R. Nielsen
,
Matthew D. Parker
,
Stacey M. Hitchcock
, and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

This article investigates errors in forecasts of the environment near an elevated mesoscale convective system (MCS) in Iowa on 24–25 June 2015 during the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) field campaign. The eastern flank of this MCS produced an outflow boundary (OFB) and moved southeastward along this OFB as a squall line. The western flank of the MCS remained quasi stationary approximately 100 km north of the system’s OFB and produced localized flooding. A total of 16 radiosondes were launched near the MCS’s eastern flank and 4 were launched near the MCS’s western flank.

Convective available potential energy (CAPE) increased and convective inhibition (CIN) decreased substantially in observations during the 4 h prior to the arrival of the squall line. In contrast, the model analyses and forecasts substantially underpredicted CAPE and overpredicted CIN owing to their underrepresentation of moisture. Numerical simulations that placed the MCS at varying distances too far to the northeast were analyzed. MCS displacement error was strongly correlated with models’ underrepresentation of low-level moisture and their associated overrepresentation of the vertical distance between a parcel’s initial height and its level of free convection ( , which is correlated with CIN). The overpredicted in models resulted in air parcels requiring unrealistically far northeastward travel in a region of gradual meso-α-scale lift before these parcels initiated convection. These results suggest that erroneous MCS predictions by NWP models may sometimes result from poorly analyzed low-level moisture fields.

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John M. Peters
,
Daniel R. Chavas
,
Chun-Yian Su
,
Hugh Morrison
, and
Brice E. Coffer

Abstract

This article introduces an analytic formula for entraining convective available potential energy (ECAPE) with an entrainment rate that is determined directly from an environmental sounding, rather than prescribed by the formula user. Entrainment is connected to the background environment using an eddy diffusivity approximation for lateral mixing, updraft geometry assumptions, and mass continuity. These approximations result in a direct correspondence between the storm-relative flow and the updraft radius and an inverse scaling between the updraft radius squared and entrainment rate. The aforementioned concepts, combined with the assumption of adiabatic conservation of moist static energy, yield an explicit analytic equation for ECAPE that depends entirely on state variables in an atmospheric profile and a few constant parameters with values that are established in past literature. Using a simplified Bernoulli-like equation, the ECAPE formula is modified to account for updraft enhancement via kinetic energy extracted from the cloud’s background environment. CAPE and ECAPE can be viewed as predictors of the maximum vertical velocity w max in an updraft. Hence, these formulas are evaluated using w max from past numerical modeling studies. Both of the new formulas improve predictions of w max substantially over commonly used diagnostic parameters, including undiluted CAPE and ECAPE with a constant prescribed entrainment rate. The formula that incorporates environmental kinetic energy contribution to the updraft correctly predicts instances of exceedance of 2 CAPE by w max, and provides a conceptual explanation for why such exceedance is rare among past simulations. These formulas are potentially useful in nowcasting and forecasting thunderstorms and as thunderstorm proxies in climate change studies.

Significance Statement

Substantial mixing occurs between the upward-moving air currents in thunderstorms (updrafts) and the surrounding comparatively dry environmental air, through a process called entrainment. Entrainment controls thunderstorm intensity via its diluting effect on the buoyancy of air within updrafts. A challenge to representing entrainment in forecasting and predictions of the intensity of updrafts in future climates is to determine how much entrainment will occur in a given thunderstorm environment without a computationally expensive high-resolution simulation. To address this gap, this article derives a new formula that computes entrainment from the properties of a single environmental profile. This formula is shown to predict updraft vertical velocity more accurately than past diagnostics, and can be used in forecasting and climate prediction to improve predictions of thunderstorm behavior and impacts.

Open access
Brice E. Coffer
,
Matthew D. Parker
,
John M. Peters
, and
Andrew R. Wade

Abstract

The development and intensification of low-level mesocyclones in supercell thunderstorms have often been attributed, at least in part, to augmented streamwise vorticity generated baroclinically in the forward flank of supercells. However, the ambient streamwise vorticity of the environment (often quantified via storm-relative helicity), especially near the ground, is particularly skillful at discriminating between nontornadic and tornadic supercells. This study investigates whether the origins of the inflow air into supercell low-level mesocyclones, both horizontally and vertically, can help explain the dynamical role of environmental versus storm-generated vorticity in the development of low-level mesocyclone rotation. Simulations of supercells, initialized with wind profiles common to supercell environments observed in nature, show that the air bound for the low-level mesocyclone primarily originates from the ambient environment (rather than from along the forward flank) and from very close to the ground, often in the lowest 200–400 m of the atmosphere. Given that the near-ground environmental air comprises the bulk of the inflow into low-level mesocyclones, this likely explains the forecast skill of environmental streamwise vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters of the atmosphere. The low-level mesocyclone does not appear to require much augmentation from the development of additional horizontal vorticity in the forward flank. Instead, the dominant contributor to vertical vorticity within the low-level mesocyclone is from the environmental horizontal vorticity. This study provides further context to the ongoing discussion regarding the development of rotation within supercell low-level mesocyclones.

Significance Statement

Supercell thunderstorms produce the majority of tornadoes, and a defining characteristic of supercells is their rotating updraft, known as the “mesocyclone.” When the mesocyclone is stronger at lower altitudes, the likelihood of tornadoes increases. The purpose of this study is to understand if the rotation of the mesocyclone in supercells is due to horizontal spin present in the ambient environment or whether additional horizontal spin generated by the storm itself primarily drives this rotation. Our results suggest that inflow air into supercells and low-level mesocyclone rotation are mainly due to the properties of the environmental inflow air, especially near the ground. This hopefully provides further context to how our community views the development of low-level mesocyclones in supercells.

Open access
E. E. Clothiaux
,
M. A. Miller
,
B. A. Albrecht
,
T. P. Ackerman
,
J. Verlinde
,
D. M. Babb
,
R. M. Peters
, and
W. J. Syrett

Abstract

The performance of a 94-GHz radar is evaluated for a variety of cloud conditions. Descriptions of the radar hardware, signal processing, and calibration provide an overview of the radar's capabilities. An important component of the signal processing is the application of two cloud-mask schemes to the data to provide objective estimates of cloud boundaries and to detect significant returns that would otherwise be discarded if a simple threshold method for delectability was applied to the return power. Realistic profiles of atmospheric pressure, temperature, and water vapor are used in a radiative transfer model to address clear-sky attenuation. A physically relevant study of beam extinction and backscattering by clouds is attempted by modeling cloud drop size distributions with a gamma distribution over a range of number concentrations, particle mean diameters, and distribution shape factors; cloud liquid water contents and mean drop size diameters reported in the literature are analyzed in this context. Results of observations of a number of cloud structures, including marine strato- cumulus, cirrus, and stratus and cirrus associated with a midlatitude cyclone are described.

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J. N. Moum
,
D. Hebert
,
C. A. Paulson
,
D. R. Caldwell
,
M. J. McPhaden
, and
H. Peters

Abstract

Appearing in this issue of the Journal of Physical Oceanography are three papers that present new observations of a distinct, narrow band, and diurnally varying signal in temperature records obtained in the low Richardson number shear flow above the core of the equatorial undercurrent. Moored data suggest that the intrinsic frequency of the signal is near the local buoyancy frequency, while towed data indicate that the horizontal wavelength in the zonal direction is 150–250 m. Coincident microstructure profiling shows that this signal is associated with bursts of turbulent mixing, it seems that this narrowband signal represents the signature of instabilities that ultimately cause the turbulence observed in the equatorial thermocline. Common problems in interpreting the physics behind the signature are discussed here.

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