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S. B. Trier
,
C. A. Davis
, and
D. A. Ahijevych

Abstract

The diurnal cycle of warm-season precipitation in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent Great Plains of the United States is examined using a numerical modeling framework designed to isolate the role of terrain-influenced diurnally varying flows within a quasi-stationary longwave pattern common to active periods of midsummer convection. Simulations are initialized using monthly averaged conditions and contain lateral boundary conditions that vary only with the diurnal cycle. Together these attributes mitigate effects of transient weather disturbances originating upstream of the model domain. After a spinup period, the final 7 days of the 10-day model integration are analyzed and compared with observations. Results indicate that many salient features of the monthly precipitation climatology are reproduced by the model. These include a stationary afternoon precipitation frequency maximum over the Rocky Mountains followed overnight by an eastward-progressing zone of maximum precipitation frequencies confined to a narrow latitudinal corridor in the Great Plains. The similarity to observations despite the monthly averaged initial and lateral boundary conditions suggests that although progressive weather disturbances (e.g., mobile cold fronts and midtropospheric short waves) that originate outside of the region may help enhance and focus precipitation in individual cases, they are not crucial to the general location and diurnal cycle of midsummer precipitation. The roles of persistent daily features such as the nocturnal low-level jet and the thermally induced mountain–plains vertical circulation on both convection and a mesoscale water budget of the central Great Plains (where the heaviest rain occurs) are discussed.

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S. B. Trier
,
C. A. Davis
, and
J. D. Tuttle

Abstract

Observations from the modernized United States National Weather Service (NWS) data network are used to assess the frequency and general characteristics of midtropospheric cyclonic vortices (MCVs) generated by mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). Results from the 1998 convective season (15 May–15 September) over the central United States suggest that long-lived MCVs, which persist after the dissipation of the initiating MCS, are more common than previously documented. These MCVs occur in weaker ambient vertical shear (both in the lower troposphere and through a nominal vortex layer) than MCSs from which no detectable MCVs are spawned.

An important aspect of MCVs is that they may focus subsequent convective development within long-lived discontinuous heavy precipitation episodes. Subsequent deep convection is observed in the vicinity of MCVs in slightly greater than 1/2 of the MCV cases. This subsequent convection occurs in thermodynamic environments of moderate-to-large convective available potential energy and small convective inhibition, and is located in a region from the center of the MCV circulation outward to its downshear periphery. This location is consistent with lower-tropospheric ascent arising from the interaction of a quasi-balanced vortex with the ambient vertical shear.

Long-lived organized convection near the MCV center is likely crucial in either sustaining or reinvigorating vortices during the relatively rare MCV events that persist longer than a diurnal cycle. Examples from the 1998 convective season are used to illustrate differences in the relationship between the MCV circulation and the organization of subsequent convection among different MCV cases.

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S. B. Trier
,
C. A. Davis
, and
W. C. Skamarock

Abstract

Idealized numerical simulations are used to quantify the effect of quasi-balanced lifting arising from the interaction of the ambient vertical shear with midtropospheric cyclonic vortices (MCVs) generated by mesoscale convective systems on thermodynamic destabilization over a range of ambient vertical shear strengths and vortex characteristics observed in Part I. Maximum upward displacements occur beneath the midtropospheric potential vorticity anomaly, near the radius of maximum tangential vortex winds. The location of the region of upward displacements relative to the ambient vertical shear vector depends on the relative strength of the vortex tangential flow and the ambient vertical shear, and ranges from downshear for vortices of moderate strength in strong ambient vertical shear to 90° to the left of downshear for strong vortices in weak ambient vertical shear. Although significant upward displacements occur most rapidly with small vortices in strong ambient vertical shear, maximum upward displacements are associated with large vortices and occur in approximately average vertical shear for MCV environments.

The simulations suggest that in larger and stronger than average MCVs, the lifting that results from the MCV being embedded in a weakly baroclinic environment is, alone, sufficient to saturate initially moist and conditionally unstable layers immediately above the boundary layer. The horizontal location of the resulting thermodynamic instability is approximately coincident with the maximum lower-tropospheric upward displacements. Since in the absence of sustained deep convection the vortices develop substantial vertical tilt, the destabilized region in the lower troposphere lies nearly underneath the vortex center at its level of maximum strength, consistent with observations that redevelopment of organized, long-lived (e.g., t ≥ 6 h) deep convection is most often found near the midtropospheric MCV center. This location for convectively induced stretching of preexisting vertical vorticity is optimal for maintaining the vortex against the deleterious effect of differential advection by the ambient shear.

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Stanley B. Trier
,
Glen S. Romine
,
David A. Ahijevych
,
Ryan A. Sobash
, and
Manda B. Chasteen

Abstract

A 50-member convection-allowing ensemble was used to examine environmental factors influencing afternoon convection initiation (CI) and subsequent severe weather on 5 April 2017 during intensive observing period (IOP) 3b of the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment in the Southeast (VORTEX-SE). This case produced several weak tornadoes (rated EF1 or less), and numerous reports of significant hail (diameter ≥ 2 in.; ≥~5 cm), ahead of an eastward-moving surface cold front over eastern Alabama and southern Tennessee. Both observed and simulated CI was facilitated by mesoscale lower-tropospheric ascent maximized several tens of kilometers ahead of the cold-frontal position, and the simulated mesoscale ascent was linked to surface frontogenesis in the ensemble mean. Simulated maximum 2–5 km AGL updraft helicity (UHmax) was used as a proxy for severe-weather-producing mesocyclones, and considerable variability in UHmax occurred among the ensemble members. Ensemble members with UHmax > 100 m2 s−2 had stronger mesoscale ascent than in members with UHmax < 75 m2 s−2, which facilitated timelier CI by producing greater adiabatic cooling and moisture increases above the PBL. After CI, storms in the larger UHmax members moved northeastward toward a mesoscale region with larger convective available potential energy (CAPE) than in smaller UHmax members. The CAPE differences among members were influenced by differences in the location of an antecedent mesoscale convective system, which had a thermodynamically stabilizing influence on the environment toward which storms were moving. Despite providing good overall guidance, the model ensemble overpredicted severe weather likelihoods in northeastern Alabama, where comparisons with VORTEX-SE soundings revealed a positive CAPE bias.

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S. B. Trier
,
W. C. Skamarock
,
M. A. LeMone
,
D. B. Parsons
, and
D. P. Jorgensen

Abstract

In this study a numerical cloud model is used to simulate the three-dimensional evolution of an oceanic tropical squall line observed during the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment and investigate the impact of small-scale physical processes including surface fluxes and ice microphysics on its structure and evolution. The observed squall line was oriented perpendicular to a moderately strong low-level jet. Salient features that are replicated by the model include an upshear-tilted leading convective region with multiple updraft maxima during its linear stage and the development of a 30-km scale midlevel vortex and associated transition of the line to a pronounced bow-shaped structure.

In this modeling approach, only surface flukes and stresses that differ from those of the undisturbed environment are included. This precludes an unrealistically large modification to the idealized quasi-steady base state and thus allows us to more easily isolate effects of internally generated surface fluxes and stresses on squall line evolution. Neither surface fluxes and stresses nor ice microphysics are necessary to simulate the salient features of the squall line. Their inclusion, however, results in differences in the timing of squall line evolution and greater realism of certain structural characteristics. Significant differences in the convectively induced cold pool strength occur between the early stages of simulations that included ice microphysics and a simulation that contained only warm-rain microphysical processes. The more realistic strength and depth of the cold pool in the simulations that contained ice processes is consistent with an updraft tilt that more closely resembles observations. The squall-line-induced surface fluxes also influence the strength but, more dramatically, the areal extent of the surface cold pool. For the majority of the 6-h simulation, this influence on the cold pool strength is felt only within several hundred meters of the surface. Significant impact of squall-line-induced surface, fluxes on the evolving deep convection at the leading edge of the cold pool is restricted to the later stages (t ≥ 4 h) of simulations and is most substantial in regions where the ground-relative winds are strong and the convectively induced cold pool is initially weak and shallow.

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S. B. Trier
,
C. A. Davis
,
D. A. Ahijevych
,
M. L. Weisman
, and
G. H. Bryan

Abstract

A large-domain explicit convection simulation is used to investigate the life cycle of nocturnal convection for a one-week period of successive zonally propagating heavy precipitation episodes occurring over the central United States. Similar to climatological studies of phase-coherent warm-season convection, the longest-lived precipitation episodes initiate during the late afternoon over the western Great Plains (105°–100°W), reach their greatest intensity at night over the central Great Plains (100°–95°W), and typically weaken around or slightly after sunrise over the Midwest (95°–85°W). The longest-lived episodes exhibit average zonal phase speeds of ∼20 m s−1, consistent with radar observations during the period.

Composite analysis of the life cycle of five long-lived nocturnal precipitation episodes indicates that convection both develops and then propagates eastward along an east–west-oriented lower-tropospheric frontal zone. An elevated ∼2-km-deep layer of high-θe air helps sustain convection during its period of greatest organization overnight. Trajectory analysis for individual episodes reveals that the high-θe air originates both from within the frontal zone and to its south where, in this latter case, it is transported northward by the nocturnal low-level jet (LLJ).

The mature (nocturnal) stage composite evinces a thermally direct cross-frontal circulation, within which the trajectories ascend 0.5–2 km to produce the elevated conditionally unstable layer. This transverse vertical circulation is forced by deformation frontogenesis, which itself is supported by the intensification of the nocturnal LLJ. The frontal zone also provides an environment of strong vertical shear, which helps organize the zonally propagating component of convection. Overnight the convection exhibits squall-line characteristics, where its phase speed is typically consistent with that which arises from deep convectively induced buoyancy perturbations combined with the opposing environmental surface flow. In a large majority of cases convection weakens as it reaches the Midwest around sunrise, where environmental thermodynamic stability is greater, and environmental vertical shear, frontogenesis, and vertical motions are weaker than those located farther west overnight.

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S. B. Trier
,
F. Chen
,
K. W. Manning
,
M. A. LeMone
, and
C. A. Davis

Abstract

A coupled land surface–atmospheric model that permits grid-resolved deep convection is used to examine linkages between land surface conditions, the planetary boundary layer (PBL), and precipitation during a 12-day warm-season period over the central United States. The period of study (9–21 June 2002) coincided with an extensive dry soil moisture anomaly over the western United States and adjacent high plains and wetter-than-normal soil conditions over parts of the Midwest. A range of possible atmospheric responses to soil wetness is diagnosed from a set of simulations that use land surface models (LSMs) of varying sophistication and initial land surface conditions of varying resolution and specificity to the period of study.

Results suggest that the choice of LSM [Noah or the less sophisticated simple slab soil model (SLAB)] significantly influences the diurnal cycle of near-surface potential temperature and water vapor mixing ratio. The initial soil wetness also has a major impact on these thermodynamic variables, particularly during and immediately following the most intense phase of daytime surface heating. The soil wetness influences the daytime PBL evolution through both local and upstream surface evaporation and sensible heat fluxes, and through differences in the mesoscale vertical circulation that develops in response to horizontal gradients of the latter. Resulting differences in late afternoon PBL moist static energy and stability near the PBL top are associated with differences in subsequent late afternoon and evening precipitation in locations where the initial soil wetness differs among simulations. In contrast to the initial soil wetness, soil moisture evolution has negligible effects on the mean regional-scale thermodynamic conditions and precipitation during the 12-day period.

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S. B. Trier
,
M. A. LeMone
,
F. Chen
, and
K. W. Manning

Abstract

The evolution of the daytime planetary boundary layer (PBL) and its association with warm-season precipitation is strongly impacted by land–atmosphere heat and moisture exchange (hereafter surface exchange). However, substantial uncertainty exists in the parameterization of the surface exchange in numerical weather prediction (NWP) models. In the current study, the authors examine 0–24-h convection-permitting forecasts with different surface exchange strengths for a 6-day period during the International H2O Project (IHOP_2002). Results indicate sensitivity in the timing of simulated afternoon convection initiation and subsequent precipitation amounts to variations in surface exchange strength. Convection initiation in simulations with weak surface exchange was delayed by 2–3 h compared to simulations with strong surface exchange, and area-averaged total precipitation amounts were less by up to a factor of 2. Over the western high plains (105°–100°W longitude), where deep convection is locally generated, simulations using a formulation for surface exchange that varied with the vegetation category (height) produced area-averaged diurnal cycles of forecasted precipitation amounts in better agreement with observations than simulations that used the current Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting Model (ARW-WRF) formulation. Parcel theory is used to diagnose mechanisms by which differences in surface exchange influence convection initiation in individual case studies. The more rapid initiation in simulations with strong surface exchange results from a more rapid removal of negative buoyancy beneath the level of free convection, which arises primarily from greater PBL warming.

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J. W. Wilson
,
S. B. Trier
,
D. W. Reif
,
R. D. Roberts
, and
T. M. Weckwerth

Abstract

During the Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) experiment, an isolated hailstorm developed on the western side of the PECAN study area on the night of 3–4 July 2015. One of the objectives of PECAN was to advance knowledge of the processes and conditions leading to pristine nocturnal convection initiation (CI). This nocturnal hailstorm developed more than 160 km from any other convective storms and in the absence of any surface fronts or bores. The storm initiated within 110 km of the S-Pol radar; directly over a vertically pointing Doppler lidar; within 25 km of the University of Wyoming King Air flight track; within a network of nine sounding sites taking 2-hourly soundings; and near a mobile mesonet track. Importantly, even beyond 100 km in range, S-Pol observed the preconvection initiation cloud that was collocated with the satellite infrared cloud image and provided information on the evolution of cloud growth. The multiple observations of cloud base, thermodynamic stability, and direct updraft observations were used to determine that the updraft roots were elevated. Diagnostic analysis presented in the paper suggests that CI was aided by lower-tropospheric gravity waves occurring in an environment of weak but persistent mesoscale lifting.

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S. B. Trier
,
R. D. Sharman
,
R. G. Fovell
, and
R. G. Frehlich

Abstract

Turbulence affecting aircraft is frequently reported within bands of cirrus anvil cloud extending radially outward from upstream deep convection in mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). A high-resolution convection permitting model is used to simulate bands of this type observed on 17 June 2005. The timing, location, and orientation of these simulated bands are similar to those in satellite imagery for this case. The 10–20-km horizontal spacing between the bands is also similar to typical spacing found in a recent satellite-based climatology of MCS-induced radial outflow bands.

The simulated bands result from shallow convection in the near-neutral to weakly unstable MCS outer anvil. The weak stratification of the anvil, the ratio of band horizontal wavelength to the depth of the near-neutral anvil layer (5:1 to 10:1), and band orientation approximately parallel to the vertical shear within the same layer are similar to corresponding aspects of horizontal convective rolls in the atmospheric boundary layer, which result from thermal instability. The vertical shear in the MCS outflow is important not only in influencing the orientation of the radial bands but also for its role, through differential temperature advection, in helping to thermodynamically destabilize the environment in which they originate.

High-frequency gravity waves emanating from the parent deep convection are trapped in a layer of strong static stability and vertical wind shear beneath the near-neutral anvil and, consistent with satellite studies, are oriented approximately normal to the developing radial bands. The wave-generated vertical displacements near the anvil base may aid band formation in the layer above.

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