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Scott M. Steiger, Robert Hamilton, Jason Keeler, and Richard E. Orville

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning, radar, and radiosonde data were examined to determine how frequently lake-effect storms (rain/snow) with lightning occurred over and near the lower Great Lakes region (Lakes Erie and Ontario) from September 1995 through March 2007. On average, lake-effect lightning occurred on 7.9 days and with 5.8 storm events during a particular cool season (September–March). The CG lightning with these storms had little inland extent and was usually limited to a few flashes per storm. Some storms had considerably more, with the most intense storm (based on National Lightning Detection Network observations) producing 1551 CG flashes over a 4-day period. Thundersnow events were examined in more detail because of the rarity of this phenomenon across the United States. Most lake-effect thundersnow events (75%) occurred in November and December. An analysis of model sounding data using the Buffalo Toolkit for Lake Effect Snow (BUFKIT) software package in which lower boundary conditions can be modified by lake surfaces showed that thundersnow events had an 82% increase in the mean height of the −10°C level when compared with nonelectrified lake-effect snowstorms (1.2 vs 0.7 km AGL), had higher lake-induced equilibrium levels (EL; above 3.6 km AGL) and convective available potential energy (CAPE; >500 J kg−1), had low wind shear environments, and were intense, single-band storms. A nomogram of the altitude of the −10°C isotherm and EL proved to be useful in predicting lake-effect thundersnowstorms.

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Scott M. Steiger, Tyler Kranz, and Theodore W. Letcher

Abstract

The Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign during the winter season of 2013/14 provided unprecedented data with regard to the structure and behavior of long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) lake-effect storms. One of the interesting characteristics of LLAP storm bands is their ability to initiate lightning. The OWLeS datasets provide an opportunity to examine more thoroughly the kinematics and microphysics of lake-effect thunder-snowstorms than ever before. The OWLeS facilities and field personnel observed six lake-effect thunderstorms during December–January 2013/14. Most of them produced very little lightning (fewer than six cloud-to-ground strokes or intracloud pulses recorded by the National Lightning Detection Network). The 7 January 2014 storm had over 50 strokes and pulses, however, which resulted in 20 flashes over a 6-h period (0630–1230 UTC), making it the most electrically active storm during the field campaign. Relative to the 18 December 2013 storm, which only had three flashes, the 7 January 2014 case had a deeper boundary layer and greater instability. Also, 45% of the lightning during the 7 January storm was likely due to flashes initiated by wind turbines or other man-made antennas, along with all of the lightning observed during 18 December. No lightning was documented over Lake Ontario, the primary source of instability for these storms.

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Scott M. Steiger, Richard E. Orville, and Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

It is shown that total lightning mapping, along with radar and National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) cloud-to-ground lightning data, can be used to diagnose the severity of a thunderstorm. Analysis of supercells, some of which were tornadic, on 13 October 2001 over Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, shows that Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR II) lightning source heights (quartile, median, and 95th percentile heights) increased as the storms intensified. Most of the total (cloud to ground and intracloud) lightning occurred where reflectivity cores extended upward, within regions of strong reflectivity gradient rather than in reflectivity cores. A total lightning hole was associated with an intense, nontornadic supercell on 6 April 2003. None of the supercells on 13 October 2001 exhibited a lightning hole. During tornadogenesis, the radar and LDAR II data indicated updraft weakening. The height of the 30-dBZ radar top began to descend approximately 10 min (2 volume scans) before tornado touchdown in one storm. Total lightning and cloud-to-ground flash rates decreased by up to a factor of 5 to a minimum during an F2 tornado touchdown associated with this storm. LDAR II source heights all showed descent by 2–4 km during a 25-min period prior to and during this tornado touchdown. This drastic trend of decreasing source heights prior to and during tornado touchdown was observed in two storms, but did not occur in nontornadic supercells, suggesting that these parameters can be useful to forecasters. These observations agree with tornadogenesis theory that as the updraft weakens, the mesocyclone can divide (into an updraft and downdraft) and become tornadic.

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Scott M. Steiger, Richard E. Orville, and Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

Total lightning data from the Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR II) research network in addition to cloud-to-ground flash data from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and data from the Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) station (KFWS) were examined from individual cells within mesoscale convective systems that crossed the Dallas–Fort Worth region on 13 October 2001, 27 May 2002, and 16 June 2002. LDAR II source density contours were comma shaped, in association with severe wind events within mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) on 13 October 2001 and 27 May 2002. This signature is similar to the radar reflectivity bow echo. The source density comma shape was apparent 15 min prior to a severe wind report and lasted more than 20 min during the 13 October storm. Consistent relationships between severe straight-line winds, radar, and lightning storm cell characteristics (e.g., lightning heights) were not found for cells within MCSs as was the case for severe weather in supercells in Part I of this study. Cell interactions within MCSs are believed to weaken these relationships as reflectivity and lightning from nearby storms contaminate the cells of interest. Another hypothesis for these weak relations is that system, not individual cell, processes are responsible for severe straight-line winds at the surface. Analysis of the total lightning structure of the 13 October 2001 MCS showed downward-sloping source density contours behind the main convective line into the stratiform region. This further supports a charge advection mechanism in developing the stratiform charge structure. Bimodal vertical source density distributions were observed within MCS convection close to the center of the LDAR II network, while the lower mode was not detected at increasing range.

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Jake P. Mulholland, Jeffrey Frame, Stephen W. Nesbitt, Scott M. Steiger, Karen A. Kosiba, and Joshua Wurman

Abstract

Recent lake-effect snow field projects in the eastern Great Lakes region have revealed the presence of misovortices with diameters between 40 and 4000 m along cyclonic horizontal shear zones within long-lake-axis-parallel bands. One particular band in which an abundance of misovortices developed occurred on 7 January 2014. The leading hypothesis for lake-effect misovortexgenesis is the release of horizontal shearing instability (HSI). An analysis of three-dimensional dual-Doppler wind syntheses reveals that two criteria for HSI are satisfied along the horizontal shear zone, strongly suggesting that HSI was the likely cause of the misovortices in this case. Furthermore, the general lack of anticyclonic–cyclonic vortex couplets throughout the event reveal that tilting of horizontal vorticity into the vertical is of less importance compared to the release of HSI and subsequent strengthening via vortex stretching. A WRF simulation depicts misovortices along the horizontal shear zone within the simulated band. The simulated vortices display remarkable similarities to the observed vortices in terms of intensity, depth, spacing, and size. The simulated vortices persist over the eastern end of the lake; however, once the vortices move inland, they quickly dissipate. HSI criteria are also calculated from the WRF simulation and are satisfied along the shear zone. Competing hypotheses of misovortexgenesis are presented, with results indicating that the release of HSI is the likely mechanism of vortex formation.

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Scott M. Steiger, Robert Schrom, Alfred Stamm, Daniel Ruth, Keith Jaszka, Timothy Kress, Brett Rathbun, Jeffrey Frame, Joshua Wurman, and Karen Kosiba

Abstract

The eastern Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario) are often affected by intense lake-effect snowfalls. Lake-effect storms that form parallel to the major axes of these lakes can strongly impact communities by depositing more than 100 cm of snowfall in less than 24 h. Long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) storms are significantly different in structure and dynamics compared to the much more studied wind-parallel roll storms that typically form over the western Great Lakes. A Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radar sampled several of these storms at fine spatial and temporal resolutions (and close to the surface) during the winter of 2010–11 over and downwind of Lake Ontario to document and improve understanding of how these storms develop. Over 1100 observations of vortices were catalogued within the 16 December 2010 and 4–5 January 2011 events. The majority of these vortices were less than 1 km in diameter with a statistical modal difference in Doppler velocity (delta-V) value across the vortex of 11 m s−1. Vortices developed along boundaries, which formed within the bands, suggesting horizontal shear instability was the main cause. Other features noted in the DOW observations included bounded weak echo regions, anvils, and horizontal vortices, typically on the south side of west–east-oriented LLAP bands. The reflectivity and velocity structure of LLAP bands were found to be much more complex than previously thought, which may impact localized precipitation amounts and errors in forecast location/intensity.

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David A. R. Kristovich, Richard D. Clark, Jeffrey Frame, Bart Geerts, Kevin R. Knupp, Karen A. Kosiba, Neil F. Laird, Nicholas D. Metz, Justin R. Minder, Todd D. Sikora, W. James Steenburgh, Scott M. Steiger, Joshua Wurman, and George S. Young

Abstract

Intense lake-effect snowstorms regularly develop over the eastern Great Lakes, resulting in extreme winter weather conditions with snowfalls sometimes exceeding 1 m. The Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign sought to obtain unprecedented observations of these highly complex winter storms.

OWLeS employed an extensive and diverse array of instrumentation, including the University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft, five university-owned upper-air sounding systems, three Center for Severe Weather Research Doppler on Wheels radars, a wind profiler, profiling cloud and precipitation radars, an airborne lidar, mobile mesonets, deployable weather Pods, and snowfall and particle measuring systems. Close collaborations with National Weather Service Forecast Offices during and following OWLeS have provided a direct pathway for results of observational and numerical modeling analyses to improve the prediction of severe lake-effect snowstorm evolution. The roles of atmospheric boundary layer processes over heterogeneous surfaces (water, ice, and land), mixed-phase microphysics within shallow convection, topography, and mesoscale convective structures are being explored.

More than 75 students representing nine institutions participated in a wide variety of data collection efforts, including the operation of radars, radiosonde systems, mobile mesonets, and snow observation equipment in challenging and severe winter weather environments.

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