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Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

This study makes use of operational global ensemble forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) to examine the factors contributing to, or inhibiting, the development of a long-lived continental vortex and its associated rainfall. From 25 to 30 June 2007, a vortex developed and grew upscale over the southern plains of the United States. It was associated with persistent heavy rainfall, with over 100 mm of rain falling in much of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, and amounts exceeding 300 mm in southeastern Kansas. Previous research has shown that, in comparison with other rainfall events of similar temporal and spatial scales, this event was particularly difficult for numerical models to predict.

Considering the ensemble members as different possible realizations of the evolution of the event, several methods are used to examine the processes that led to the development and maintenance of the long-lived vortex and its associated rainfall, and to its apparently limited predictability. Linear statistics are calculated to identify synoptic-scale flow features that were correlated to area-averaged precipitation, and differences between composites of “dry” and “wet” ensemble members are used to pinpoint the processes that were favorable or detrimental to the system’s development. The maintenance of the vortex, and its slow movement in the southern plains, are found to be closely related to the strength of a closed midlevel anticyclone in the southwestern United States and the strength of a midlevel ridge in the northern plains. In particular, with a weaker upstream anticyclone, the shear and flow over the incipient vortex are relatively weak, which allows for slow movement and persistent heavy rains. On the other hand, when the upstream anticyclone is stronger, there is stronger northerly shear and flow, which causes the incipient vortex to move southwestward into the high terrain of Mexico and dissipate. These relatively small differences in the wind and mass fields early in the ensemble forecast, in conjunction with modifications of the synoptic and mesoscale flow by deep convection, lead to very large spread in the resulting precipitation forecasts.

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Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

On 31 May 2013, a supercell thunderstorm initiated in west-central Oklahoma and produced a deadly tornado. This convection then grew upscale, with a nearly stationary line developing early on 1 June that produced very heavy rainfall and caused deadly flash flooding in the Oklahoma City area. Real-time convection-allowing (Δx = 4 km) model forecasts used during the Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX) provided accurate guidance regarding the timing, location, and evolution of convection in this case. However, attempts to simulate this event at higher resolution degraded the forecast, with the primary supercell failing to initiate and the evolution of the overnight MCS not resembling the observed system. Experiments to test the dependence of forecasts of this event on model resolution show that with grid spacing smaller than 4 km, mixing along the dryline in northwest Texas was more vigorous, causing low-level dry air to move more quickly eastward into Oklahoma. This drying prevented the supercell from initiating near the triple point in the higher-resolution simulations. Then, the lack of supercellular convection and its associated cold pool altered the evolution of subsequent convection. Whereas in observations and the 4-km forecast, a nearly stationary MCS developed parallel to, but displaced from, the supercell’s cold pool, the higher-resolution simulations instead had a faster-moving squall line that produced less rainfall. Although the degradation of convective forecasts at higher resolution is probably unusual and appears sensitive to the choice of boundary layer parameterization, these findings demonstrate that how numerical models treat boundary layer processes at different grid spacings can, in some cases, have profound influences on predictions of high-impact weather.

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Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

Using a method for initiating a quasi-stationary, heavy-rain-producing elevated mesoscale convective system in an idealized numerical modeling framework, a series of experiments is conducted in which a shallow layer of drier air is introduced within the near-surface stable layer. The environment is still very moist in the experiments, with changes to the column-integrated water vapor of only 0.3%–1%. The timing and general evolution of the simulated convective systems are very similar, but rainfall accumulation at the surface is changed by a much larger fraction than the reduction in moisture, with point precipitation maxima reduced by up to 29% and domain-averaged precipitation accumulations reduced by up to 15%. The differences in precipitation are partially attributed to increases in the evaporation rate in the shallow subcloud layer, though this is found to be a secondary effect. More importantly, even though the near-surface layer has strong convective inhibition in all simulations and the convective available potential energy of the most unstable parcels is unchanged, convection is less intense in the experiments with drier subcloud layers because less air originating in that layer rises in convective updrafts. An additional experiment with a cooler near-surface layer corroborates these findings. The results from these experiments suggest that convective systems assumed to be elevated are, in fact, drawing air from near the surface unless the low levels are very stable. Considering that the moisture differences imposed here are comparable to observational uncertainties in low-level temperature and moisture, the strong sensitivity of accumulated precipitation to these quantities has implications for the predictability of extreme rainfall.

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Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

In this study, idealized numerical simulations are used to identify the processes responsible for initiating, organizing, and maintaining quasi-stationary convective systems that produce locally extreme rainfall amounts. Of particular interest are those convective systems that have been observed to occur near mesoscale convective vortices (MCVs) and other midlevel circulations. To simulate the lifting associated with such circulations, a low-level momentum forcing is applied to an initial state that is representative of observed extreme rain events. The initial vertical wind profile includes a sharp reversal of the vertical wind shear with height, indicative of observed low-level jets.

Deep moist convection initiates within the region of mesoscale lifting, and the resulting convective system replicates many of the features of observed systems. The low-level thermodynamic environment is nearly saturated, which is not conducive to the production of a strong surface cold pool; yet the convection quickly organizes into a back-building line. It is shown that a nearly stationary convectively generated low-level gravity wave is responsible for the linear organization, which continues for several hours. New convective cells repeatedly form on the southwest end of the line and move to the northeast, resulting in large local rainfall amounts. In the later stages of the simulated convective system, a cold pool does develop, but its interaction with the strong reverse shear at low levels is not optimized for the maintenance of deep convection along its edge. A series of sensitivity experiments shows some of the effects of hydrometeor evaporation and melting, planetary rotation, and the imposed mesoscale forcing.

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Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

Floods and flash floods are, by their nature, a multidisciplinary problem: they result from a convergence of atmospheric conditions, the underlying topography, hydrological processes, and the built environment. Research aimed at addressing various aspects of floods, on the other hand, often follows paths that do not directly address all of these fundamental connections. With this in mind, the NSF-sponsored Studies of Precipitation, Flooding, and Rainfall Extremes Across Disciplines (SPREAD) workshop was organized and held in Colorado during the summers of 2013 and 2014. SPREAD brought together a group of 27 graduate students from a wide variety of academic disciplines, but with the unifying theme being research interests in extreme precipitation or flooding. During the first meeting of the workshop, groups of graduate student participants designed interdisciplinary research projects that they then began work on over the intervening year, with the second meeting providing a venue to present their results. This article will outline the preliminary findings of these research efforts. Furthermore, the workshop participants had the unique and meaningful experience of visiting several locations in Colorado that had flooded in the past, and then visiting them again in the aftermath of the devastating 2013 floods. In total, the workshop resulted in several fruitful research activities that will advance understanding of precipitation and flooding. Even more importantly, the workshop fostered the development of a network of early-career researchers and practitioners who will be “multilingual” in terms of scientific disciplines, and who are poised to lead within their respective careers and across the scientific community.

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Russ S. Schumacher
and
Richard H. Johnson

Abstract

Observations and numerical simulations are used to investigate the atmospheric processes that led to extreme rainfall and resultant destructive flash flooding in eastern Missouri on 6–7 May 2000. In this event, a quasi-stationary mesoscale convective system (MCS) developed near a preexisting mesoscale convective vortex (MCV) in a very moist environment that included a strong low-level jet (LLJ). This nocturnal MCS produced in excess of 300 mm of rain in a small area to the southwest of St. Louis, Missouri. Operational model forecasts and simulations using a convective parameterization scheme failed to produce the observed rainfall totals for this event. However, convection-permitting simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model were successful in reproducing the quasi-stationary organization and evolution of this MCS. In both observations and simulations, scattered elevated convective cells were repeatedly initiated 50–75 km upstream before merging into the mature MCS and contributing to the heavy rainfall. Lifting provided by the interaction between the LLJ and the MCV assisted in initiating and maintaining the convection. Simulations indicate that the MCS was long lived despite the lack of a convectively generated cold pool at the surface. Instead, a nearly stationary low-level gravity wave helped to organize the convection into a quasi-linear system that was conducive to extreme local rainfall amounts. Idealized simulations of convection in a similar environment show that such a low-level gravity wave is a response to diabatic heating and that the vertical wind profile featuring a strong reversal of the wind shear with height is responsible for keeping the wave nearly stationary. In addition, the convective system acted to reintensify the midlevel MCV and also caused a distinct surface low pressure center to develop in both the observed and simulated system.

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Russ S. Schumacher
and
Adam J. Clark

Abstract

This study investigates probabilistic forecasts made using different convection-allowing ensemble configurations for a three-day period in June 2010 when numerous heavy-rain-producing mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) occurred in the United States. These MCSs developed both along a baroclinic zone in the Great Plains, and in association with a long-lived mesoscale convective vortex (MCV) in Texas and Arkansas. Four different ensemble configurations were developed using an ensemble-based data assimilation system. Two configurations used continuously cycled data assimilation, and two started the assimilation 24 h prior to the initialization of each forecast. Each configuration was run with both a single set of physical parameterizations and a mixture of physical parameterizations. These four ensemble forecasts were also compared with an ensemble run in real time by the Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS). All five of these ensemble systems produced skillful probabilistic forecasts of the heavy-rain-producing MCSs, with the ensembles using mixed physics providing forecasts with greater skill and less overall bias compared to the single-physics ensembles. The forecasts using ensemble-based assimilation systems generally outperformed the real-time CAPS ensemble at lead times of 6–18 h, whereas the CAPS ensemble was the most skillful at forecast hours 24–30, though it also exhibited a wet bias. The differences between the ensemble precipitation forecasts were found to be related in part to differences in the analysis of the MCV and its environment, which in turn affected the evolution of errors in the forecasts of the MCSs. These results underscore the importance of representing model error in convection-allowing ensemble analysis and prediction systems.

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Kelly M. Keene
and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

The accurate prediction of warm-season convective systems and the heavy rainfall and severe weather associated with them remains a challenge for numerical weather prediction models. This study looks at a circumstance in which quasi-stationary convection forms perpendicular to, and above the cold-pool behind strong bow echoes. The authors refer to this phenomenon as a “bow and arrow” because on radar imagery the two convective lines resemble an archer’s bow and arrow. The “arrow” can produce heavy rainfall and severe weather, extending over hundreds of kilometers. These events are challenging to forecast because they require an accurate forecast of earlier convection and the effects of that convection on the environment. In this study, basic characteristics of 14 events are documented, and observations of 4 events are presented to identify common environmental conditions prior to the development of the back-building convection. Simulations of three cases using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) are analyzed in an attempt to understand the mechanisms responsible for initiating and maintaining the convective line. In each case, strong southwesterly flow (inducing warm air advection and gradual isentropic lifting), in addition to directional and speed convergence into the convective arrow appear to contribute to initiation of convection. The linear orientation of the arrow may be associated with a combination of increased wind speeds and horizontal shear in the arrow region. When these ingredients are combined with thermodynamic instability, there appears to be a greater possibility of formation and maintenance of a convective arrow behind a bow echo.

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John M. Peters
and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

In this research, rotated principal component analysis was applied to the atmospheric fields associated with a large sample of heavy-rain-producing mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). Cluster analysis in the subspace defined by the leading two resulting principal components revealed two subtypes with distinct synoptic and mesoscale characteristics, which are referred to as warm-season-type and synoptic-type events, respectively. Subsequent composite analysis showed that both subtypes typically occurred on the cool side of a quasi-stationary, low-level frontal boundary, within a region of locally maximized low-level convergence and warm advection. Synoptic-type events, which tended to exhibit greater horizontal extent than warm-season-type events, typically occurred downstream of a progressive upper-level trough, along a low-level potential temperature gradient with the warmest air to the south and southeast. Warm-season-type events, on the other hand, occurred within the right-entrance region of a minimally to anticyclonically curved upper-level jet streak, along a low-level potential temperature gradient with the warmest low-level air to the southwest. Synoptic-scale forcing for ascent was stronger in synoptic-type events, while low-level moisture was greater in warm-season-type events. Warm-season-type events were frequently preceded by the passage of a trailing-stratiform- (TS) type MCS, whereas synoptic-type events often occurred prior to the passage of a TS-type system. Analysis of the composite vertical wind profiles at the event location suggests that quasi-stationary behavior in warm-season events predominantly resulted from upstream propagation that nearly canceled advection by the mean steering flow, whereas in the case of synoptic-type events training predominantly resulted from system motion that paralleled a front.

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Stephanie N. Stevenson
and
Russ S. Schumacher

Abstract

Extreme rainfall events in the central and eastern United States during 2002–11 were identified using NCEP stage-IV precipitation analyses. Precipitation amounts were compared against established 50- and 100-yr recurrence interval thresholds for 1-, 6-, and 24-h durations. The authors identified points where analyzed precipitation exceeded the threshold, and combined points associated with the same weather system into events. At shorter durations, points exceeding the thresholds were most common in the Southeast, whereas points were more uniformly distributed for the 24-h duration. Most 24-h events have more points than the other durations, reflecting the importance of organized precipitation systems on longer temporal scales. Though monthly peaks varied by region, the maximum (minimum) usually occurred during the summer (winter); however, the 24-h point maximum occurred in September owing to tropical cyclones. The maximum (minimum) in hourly extreme rainfall points occurred at 2300 (1100) LST, though there were regional differences in the timing of the diurnal maxima and minima. Over half of 100-yr, 24-h events were a result of mesoscale convective systems (MCS), with synoptic and tropical systems responsible for nearly one-third and one-tenth, respectively. Of the 10 events with the most points exceeding this threshold, 5 were associated with tropical cyclones, 3 were synoptic events, and 2 were MCSs. Among the MCS events, 7 of the top 10 were training line/adjoining stratiform (TL/AS). While the 49 TL/AS events investigated further had similar moisture availability, the more widespread events had stronger low-level winds, stronger warm air advection, and stronger and more expansive frontogenesis in the inflow.

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