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Robert J. Trapp

Abstract

Motivated by the temporal behavior of recent high-end tornado events, a 30-yr historical record of tornadoes in the United States is examined for multiple-day periods of tornado activity. Comprising the 3129 tornado days during 1983–2012 are 1406 unique, nonoverlapping periods. Only 24% of these periods have lengths of 3 or more days. However, the conditional probability of such a multiday period given an outbreak day (OB; one with 20 or more tornado reports) is 74%, and given a significant tornado day [SIGTOR; one rated Fujita/enhanced Fujita (F/EF) ≥ 3] is 60%. Alternative ways of expressing these conditional probabilities all lead to the conclusion that SIGTORs and/or OBs are more likely to be contained within multiday periods of tornadoes than within 1–2-day periods. Two additional conclusions are offered: 1) SIGTORs and OBs have a relatively higher likelihood of occurrence during the latter half of the multiday periods, and 2) multiday periods have a relatively higher likelihood of occurrence during the warm months of April–July. A hypothesized connection, illustrated using reanalysis data from 2013, is proposed between such behaviors and the characteristics of the larger-scale meteorological forcing. Some speculations are made about possible relationships between multiday periods of tornado activity and convective feedbacks, extended predictability, and modes of internal climate variability.

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Robert J. Trapp, Kimberly A. Hoogewind, and Sonia Lasher-Trapp

Abstract

The effect of anthropogenically enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations on the frequency and intensity of hail depends on a range of physical processes and scales. These include the environmental support of the hail-generating convective storms and the frequency of their initiation, the storm volume over which hail growth is promoted, and the depth of the lower atmosphere conducive to melting. Here, we use high-resolution (convection permitting) dynamical downscaling to simultaneously account for these effects. We find broad geographical areas of increases in the frequency of large hail (35-mm diameter) over the United States, during all four seasons. Increases in very large hail (50-mm diameter) are mostly confined to the central United States, during boreal spring and summer. And, although increases in moderate hail (20-mm diameter) are also found throughout the year, decreases occur over much of the eastern United States in summer. Such decreases result from a projected decrease in convective-storm frequency. Overall, these results suggest that the annual U.S. hail season may begin earlier in the year, be lengthened by more than a week, and exhibit more interannual variability in the future.

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Robert J. Trapp and Morris L. Weisman

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This two-part study proposes a fundamental explanation of the genesis, structure, and implications of low-level, meso-γ-scale vortices within quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) such as squall lines and bow echoes. Such “mesovortices” are observed frequently, at times in association with tornadoes.

Idealized experiments with a numerical cloud model show that significant low-level mesovortices develop in simulated QLCSs, especially when the environmental vertical wind shear is above a minimum threshold and when the Coriolis forcing is nonzero. As illustrated by a QLCS simulated in an environment of moderate vertical wind shear, mesovortexgenesis is initiated at low levels by the tilting, in downdrafts, of initially crosswise horizontal baroclinic vorticity. Over a 30-min period, the resultant vortex couplet gives way to a dominant cyclonic vortex as the relative and, more notably, planetary vorticity is stretched vertically; hence, the Coriolis force plays a direct role in the low-level mesovortexgenesis. A downward-directed vertical pressure-gradient force is subsequently induced within the mesovortices, effectively segmenting the previously (nearly) continuous convective line.

In moderate-to-strong environmental shear, the simulated QLCSs evolve into bow echoes with “straight line” surface winds found at the bow-echo apex and additionally in association with, and in fact induced by, the low-level mesovortices. Indeed, the mesovortex winds tend to be stronger, more damaging, and expand in area with time owing to a mesovortex amalgamation or “upscale” vortex growth. In weaker environmental shear—in which significant low-level mesovortices tend not to form—damaging surface winds are driven by a rear-inflow jet that descends and spreads laterally at the ground, well behind the gust front.

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Robert J. Trapp and Kimberly A. Hoogewind

Abstract

This research seeks to answer the basic question of how current-day extreme tornadic storm events might be realized under future anthropogenic climate change. The pseudo global warming (PGW) methodology was adapted for this purpose. Three contributions to the CMIP5 archive were used to obtain the mean 3D atmospheric state simulated during May 1990–99 and May 2090–99. The climate change differences (or Δs) in temperature, relative humidity, pressure, and winds were added to NWP analyses of three high-end tornadic storm events, and this modified atmospheric state was then used for initial and boundary conditions for real-data WRF Model simulations of the events at high resolution. Comparison of an ensemble of these simulations with control simulations (CTRL) facilitated assessment of PGW effects.

In contrast to the robust development of supercellular convection in each CTRL, the combined effects of increased convective inhibition (CIN) and decreased parcel lifting under PGW led to a failure of convection initiation in many of the experiments. Those experiments that had sufficient matching between the CIN and lifting tended to generate stronger convective updrafts than CTRL, although not in proportion to the projected higher levels of convective available potential energy (CAPE) under PGW. In addition, the experiments with enhanced updrafts also tended to have enhanced vertical rotation. In fact, such supercellular convection was even found in simulations that were driven with PGW-reduced environmental wind shear. Notably, the PGW modifications did not induce a change in the convective morphology in any of the PGW experiments with significant convective storminess.

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Robert J. Trapp and Joseph M. Woznicki

Abstract

The adiabatic and diabatic processes inherent to midlatitude deep convective storms are well known to modify the atmospheric temperature, moisture, and winds especially within horizontal scales equivalent to a Rossby radius of deformation. Such modifications, or “feedbacks,” induced by supercell thunderstorms were a particular focus of the Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX), owing to the unique supercell dynamics and associated supercell intensity and longevity. During the MPEX field phase, which was conducted 15 May–15 June 2013 within the Great Plains region of the United States, radiosonde observations collected in immediate supercell wakes exhibited temperature lapse rates that were qualitatively and quantitatively similar to preconvective lapse rates above the boundary layer.

Complementary idealized model simulations were used to confirm that there was little residual effect of the supercell in the wake of the moving storm except within the area occupied by the surface cold pool, and where stabilizations were induced adiabatically by transient gravity wave disturbances. The persistency of the (i) cold pool, and its inhibition to surface-based convection, depended on the evolving cold pool strength and environmental winds; and (ii) gravity wave effects depended on the Doppler-shifted phase speed relative to the moving storm. Otherwise, recovery of the wake environment to its preconvective state occurred approximately over a time scale defined by the updraft length scale and horizontal advective velocity scale.

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David M. Schultz and Robert J. Trapp

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The purpose of the Intermountain Precipitation Experiment (IPEX) is to improve understanding of precipitating systems in the Intermountain West. Instrumentation deployed during the field phase of IPEX sampled a strong cold front and associated convection that moved through northern Utah on 14–15 February 2000. The surface cold front was characterized by a sharp temperature drop (8°C in 8 min), strong pressure rise (3 hPa in 30 min), and gusts to 40 m s−1. The temperature drop at high-elevation surface stations (2500–3000 m MSL) preceded the temperature drop at low-elevation surface stations (1290–2000 m MSL) by as much as an hour, implying a forward- or downshear-tilting frontal structure. Consistent with the cooling aloft, a hydrostatic pressure rise and wind shift preceded the temperature drop at the surface. Radar captured the rapid evolution of the wind shift line into a gravity current. A forward-sloping cloud with mammatus and a 20-hPa-deep superadiabatic layer underneath were observed by radar and radiosondes, respectively. Shading from this forward-sloping cloud is believed to have produced a surface-based prefrontal inversion upon which a solitary gravity wave traveled. These and other observations reveal that the forward-sloping cloud generated by a shortwave trough aloft was producing precipitation that sublimated, melted, and evaporated in the dry subcloud air (dewpoint depression of 5°–10°C), causing the cooling aloft and the nonclassical frontal structure.

Although the storm-total precipitation associated with this system was generally light (less than 20 mm at all observing sites), the amount of precipitation was strongly a function of elevation. During one 6-h period, precipitation at stations above cloud base (roughly 2000 m MSL) varied widely, mostly due to orographic effects, although precipitation amounts at most stations were about 7–11 mm. In contrast, precipitation amounts decreased with distance below cloud base, consistent with sublimation and evaporation in the dry subcloud air.

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Michael F. Sessa and Robert J. Trapp

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In a previous study, idealized model simulations of supercell thunderstorms were used to demonstrate support of the hypothesis that wide, intense tornadoes should form more readily out of wide, rotating updrafts. Observational data were used herein to test the generality of this hypothesis, especially to tornado-bearing convective morphologies such as quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs), and within environments such as those found in the southeastern United States during boreal spring and autumn. A new radar dataset was assembled that focuses explicitly on the pretornadic characteristics of the mesocyclone, such as width and differential velocity: the pretornadic focus allows us to eliminate the effects of the tornado itself on the mesocyclone characteristics. GR2Analyst was used to manually analyze 102 tornadic events during the period 27 April 2011–1 May 2019. The corresponding tornadoes had damage (EF) ratings ranging from EF0 to EF5, and all were within 100 km of a WSR-88D. A key finding is that the linear regression between the mean, pretornadic mesocyclone width and the EF rating of the corresponding tornado yields a coefficient of determination (R 2) value of 0.75. This linear relationship is higher for discrete (supercell) cases (R 2 = 0.82), and lower for QLCS cases (R 2 = 0.37). Overall, we have found that pretornadic mesocyclone width tends to be a persistent, relatively time-invariant characteristic that is a good predictor of potential tornado intensity. In contrast, the pretornadic mesocyclone intensity (differential velocity) tends to exhibit considerable time variability, and thus would offer less reliability in anticipating tornado intensity.

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Dustan M. Wheatley and Robert J. Trapp

Abstract

This study examines the structure and evolution of quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) within complex mesoscale environments. Convective outflows and other mesoscale features appear to affect the rotational characteristics and associated dynamics of these systems. Thus, real-data numerical simulations of two QLCS events have been performed to (i) identify and characterize the various ambient mesoscale features that modify the structure and evolution of simulated QLCSs; and then to (ii) determine the nature of interaction of such features with the systems, with an emphasis on the genesis and evolution of low-level mesovortices.

Significant low-level mesovortices develop in both simulated QLCSs as a consequence of mechanisms internal to the system—consistent with idealized numerical simulations of mesovortex-bearing QLCSs—and not as an effect of system interaction with external heterogeneity. However, meso-γ-scale (order of 10 km) heterogeneity in the form of a convective outflow boundary is sufficient to affect mesovortex strength, as air parcels populating the vortex region encounter enhanced convergence at the point of QLCS–boundary interaction. Moreover, meso-β-scale (order of 100 km) heterogeneity in the form of interacting air masses provides for along-line variations in the distributions of low- to midlevel vertical wind shear and convective available potential energy. The subsequent impact on updraft strength/tilt has implications on the vortex stretching experienced by leading-edge mesovortices.

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Morris L. Weisman and Robert J. Trapp

Abstract

This two-part study proposes fundamental explanations of the genesis, structure, and implications of low-level meso-γ-scale vortices within quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) such as squall lines and bow echoes. Such “mesovortices” are observed frequently, at times in association with tornadoes.

Idealized simulations are used herein to study the structure and evolution of meso-γ-scale surface vortices within QLCSs and their dependence on the environmental vertical wind shear. Within such simulations, significant cyclonic surface vortices are readily produced when the unidirectional shear magnitude is 20 m s−1 or greater over a 0–2.5- or 0–5-km-AGL layer. As similarly found in observations of QLCSs, these surface vortices form primarily north of the apex of the individual embedded bowing segments as well as north of the apex of the larger-scale bow-shaped system. They generally develop first near the surface but can build upward to 6–8 km AGL. Vortex longevity can be several hours, far longer than individual convective cells within the QLCS; during this time, vortex merger and upscale growth is common. It is also noted that such mesoscale vortices may be responsible for the production of extensive areas of extreme “straight line” wind damage, as has also been observed with some QLCSs. Surface vortices are also produced for weaker shears but remain shallow, weak, and short-lived.

Although similar in size and strength to mesocyclones associated with supercell storms, and also sometimes producing similar hooklike structures in the rain field, it is also shown that the present vortices are quite distinct, structurally and dynamically. Most critically, such vortices are not associated with long-lived, rotating updrafts at midlevels and the associated strong, dynamically forced vertical accelerations, as occur within supercell mesocyclones.

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Robert J. Trapp and Harold E. Brooks

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In the United States, tornado activity of a given year is usually assessed in terms of the total number of human-reported tornadoes. Such assessments fail to account for the seldom-acknowledged fact that an active (or inactive) tornado year for the United States does not necessarily equate with activity (or inactivity) everywhere in the country. The authors illustrate this by comparing the geospatial tornado distributions from 1987, 2004, and 2011. Quantified in terms of the frequency of daily tornado occurrence (or “tornado days”), the high activity in the South Atlantic and upper Midwest regions was a major contributor to the record-setting number of tornadoes in 2004. The high activity in 2011 arose from significant tornado occurrences in the Southeast and lower Midwest. The authors also show that the uniqueness of the activity during these years can be determined by modeling the local statistical behavior of tornado days by a gamma distribution.

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