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Roger Edwards and Richard L. Thompson

Abstract

This study tests hypothetical correspondences between size of severe hail, WSR-88D derived vertically integrated liquid water (VIL), and an array of thermodynamic variables derived from computationally modified sounding analyses. In addition, these associations are documented for normalized VIL using various sounding parameters, and statistical predictive value is assigned to the various VIL-based and sounding variables. The database was gathered from Weather Service Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) units nationwide from cases identified during real-time operations and consists of over 400 hail events, each associated with a radar-observed VIL value and a modified observational sounding.

Some parameters are found to increase in the mean with larger hail-size categories. Specific hail size, however, varies widely across the spectra of VIL, thermodynamic sounding variables, and combinations thereof, with only a few exceptions. No operationally useful parameters of value in hail-size prediction were discovered in the database of VIL and thermodynamic sounding data. These largely antihypothetical findings are compared with hail forecasting and warning techniques developed in the WSR-88D era—few in number and mostly regionalized and informal in nature—and with more widespread and empirical forecasting assumptions involving many of the same variables.

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Richard L. Thompson and Roger Edwards

Abstract

An overview of conditions associated with the Oklahoma–Kansas tornado outbreak of 3 May 1999 is presented, with emphasis on the evolution of environmental and supercellular characteristics most relevant to the prediction of violent tornado episodes. This examination provides a unique perspective of the event by combining analyses of remote observational data and numerical guidance with direct observations of the event in the field by forecasters and other observers. The 3 May 1999 outbreak included two prolific supercells that produced several violent tornadoes, with ambient parameters comparable to those of past tornado outbreaks in the southern and central Great Plains. However, not all aspects leading to the evening of 3 May unambiguously favored a major tornado outbreak. The problems that faced operational forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center are discussed in the context of this outbreak, including environmental shear and instability, subtle processes contributing to convective initiation, the roles of preexisting boundaries, and storm-relative flow. This examination reveals several specific aspects where conceptual models are deficient and/or additional research is warranted.

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Roger Edwards and Stephen J. Hodanish

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Anticyclonic left-moving supercells are observed each year in the United States, emanating both discretely and from storm splitting processes. Such thunderstorms often produce severe hail and wind gusts and, on rare occasion, tornadoes. The body of documentary literature on this subset of supercells is relatively scant compared with right-moving storms, and this is especially true regarding visual characteristics and conceptual models. Here a characteristic example of the anticyclonic supercell is presented using an intense and well-defined specimen that passed over Aroya, Colorado, on 15 June 2002. Photographic and radar documentation is provided in original and mirrored forms, for aid in conceptualizing the left-moving supercell and associated structures and processes. A summary overview is presented of the environment, development, evolution, and effects of this remotely located but noteworthy event.

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Benjamin A. Schenkel, Michael Coniglio, and Roger Edwards

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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, drop-sondes 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 further 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 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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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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Richard L. Thompson, Corey M. Mead, and Roger Edwards

Abstract

A sample of 1185 Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) model analysis (0 h) proximity soundings, within 40 km and 30 min of radar-identified discrete storms, was categorized by several storm types: significantly tornadic supercells (F2 or greater damage), weakly tornadic supercells (F0–F1 damage), nontornadic supercells, elevated right-moving supercells, storms with marginal supercell characteristics, and nonsupercells. These proximity soundings served as the basis for calculations of storm-relative helicity and bulk shear intended to apply across a broad spectrum of thunderstorm types. An effective storm inflow layer was defined in terms of minimum constraints on lifted parcel CAPE and convective inhibition (CIN). Sixteen CAPE and CIN constraint combinations were examined, and the smallest CAPE (25 and 100 J kg−1) and largest CIN (−250 J kg−1) constraints provided the greatest probability of detecting an effective inflow layer within an 835-supercell subset of the proximity soundings. Effective storm-relative helicity (ESRH) calculations were based on the upper and lower bounds of the effective inflow layer. By confining the SRH calculation to the effective inflow layer, ESRH values can be compared consistently across a wide range of storm environments, including storms rooted above the ground. Similarly, the effective bulk shear (EBS) was defined in terms of the vertical shear through a percentage of the “storm depth,” as defined by the vertical distance from the effective inflow base to the equilibrium level associated with the most unstable parcel (maximum θe value) in the lowest 300 hPa. ESRH and EBS discriminate strongly between various storm types, and between supercells and nonsupercells, respectively.

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John P. Monteverdi, Roger Edwards, and Gregory J. Stumpf

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This manuscript documents the tornado in the Rockwell Pass area of Sequoia National Park, California, that occurred on 7 July 2004. Since the elevation of the tornado’s ground circulation was approximately 3705 m (~12 156 ft) MSL, this is the highest-elevation tornado documented in the United States. The investigation of the storm’s convective mode was performed mostly inferentially on the basis of an analysis of the radar imagery from Edwards Air Force Base (which was in clear-air mode on this day), objectively produced soundings and/or CAPE estimates from two mesoscale models, an objectively produced proximity sounding and hodograph, and analyses of satellite imagery. The nearest Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) in Hanford, California, could not be used to observe this storm because of terrain blockage by the Sierra Nevada, and the nearest sounding sites were too distant and in a different meteorological environment on this day. The near-storm environment may have been favorable briefly for a supercell in the upper portion of the Kern River Canyon. The limitations of the radar data precluded the authors from making a definitive conclusion on the convective mode of the storm but do not rule out the possibility that the storm briefly might have been a supercell. There was insufficient evidence, however, to support the notion that the tornado itself was mesocyclone induced. High LCL heights in the proximity sounding also suggest that the tornado was formed by processes not associated with a mesocyclone (popularly known as a “landspout”), but do not allow us to dismiss the possibility that the tornado was mesocyclone induced.

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Roger Edwards, John T. Allen, and Gregory W. Carbin

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Convective surface winds in the contiguous United States are classified as severe at 50 kt (58 mi h−1, or 26 m s−1), whether measured or estimated. In 2006, NCDC (now NCEI) Storm Data, from which analyzed data are directly derived, began explicit categorization of such reports as measured gusts (MGs) or estimated gusts (EGs). Because of the documented tendency of human observers to overestimate winds, the quality and reliability of EGs (especially in comparison with MGs) has been challenged, mostly for nonconvective winds and controlled-testing situations, but only speculatively for bulk convective data. For the 10-yr period of 2006–15, 150 423 filtered convective-wind gust magnitudes are compared and analyzed, including 15 183 MGs and 135 240 EGs, both nationally and by state. Nonmeteorological artifacts include marked geographic discontinuities and pronounced “spikes” of an order of magnitude in which EG values (in both miles per hour and knots) end in the digits 0 or 5. Sources such as NWS employees, storm chasers, and the general public overestimate EGs, whereas trained spotters are relatively accurate. Analysis of the ratio of EG to MG and their sources also reveals an apparent warning-verification-influence bias in the climatological distribution of wind gusts imparted by EG reliance in the Southeast. Results from prior wind-tunnel testing of human subjects are applied to 1) illustrate the difference between measured and perceived winds for the database and 2) show the impact on the severe-wind dataset if EGs were bias-corrected for the human overestimation factor.

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Adam L. Houston, Richard L. Thompson, and Roger Edwards

Abstract

An analysis of 4 yr of Rapid Update Cycle-2 (RUC-2) derived soundings in proximity to radar-observed supercells and nonsupercells is conducted in an effort to answer two questions: 1) over what depth is the fixed-layer bulk wind differential (BWD; the vector difference between the wind velocity at a given level and the wind velocity at the surface) the best discriminator between supercell and nonsupercell environments and 2) does the upper-tropospheric storm-relative flow (UTSRF) discriminate between the environments of supercells and nonsupercells? Previous climatologies of sounding-based supercell forecast parameters have documented the ability of the 0–6-km BWD in delineating supercell from nonsupercell environments. However, a systematic examination of a wide range of layers has never been documented. The UTSRF has previously been tested as a parameter for discriminating between supercell and nonsupercell environments and there is some evidence that supercells may be sensitive to the UTSRF. However, this sensitivity may be a consequence of the correlation between UTSRF and the surface to midtropospheric BWD. Accurately assessing the ability of the UTSRF to distinguish between supercell and nonsupercell environments requires controlling for the surface to midtropospheric BWD.

It is shown that the bulk wind differential within the 0–5-km layer delineates best between supercell and nonsupercell environments. Analysis of the UTSRF demonstrates that even when not controlling for the BWD, the UTSRF has limited reliability in forecasting supercells. The lack of merit in using the UTSRF to forecast supercells is particularly evident when it is isolated from the BWD. Because the UTSRF and BWD are not independent, controlling for the BWD when examining the UTSRF reveals that the UTSRF is not a fundamental parameter that can be used to distinguish supercell from nonsupercell environments. Therefore, this work demonstrates that the UTSRF is an unreliable metric for forecasting supercell events.

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