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Cameron R. Homeyer, Thea N. Sandmæl, Corey K. Potvin, and Amanda M. Murphy

Abstract

An improved understanding of common differences between tornadic and nontornadic supercells is sought using a large set of observations from the operational NEXRAD WSR-88D polarimetric radar network in the contiguous United States. In particular, data from 478 nontornadic and 294 tornadic supercells during a 7-yr period (2011–17) are used to produce probability-matched composite means of microphysical and kinematic variables. Means, which are centered on echo-top maxima and in a horizontal coordinate system rotated such that storm motion points in the positive x dimension, are created in altitude relative to ground level at times of peak echo-top altitude and peak midlevel rotation for nontornadic supercells and times at and prior to the first tornado in tornadic supercells. Robust differences between supercell types are found, with consistent characteristics at and preceding tornadogenesis in tornadic storms. In particular, the mesocyclone is found to be vertically aligned in tornadic supercells and misaligned in nontornadic supercells. Microphysical differences found include a low-level radar reflectivity hook echo aligned with and ~10 km right of storm center in tornadic supercells and displaced 5–10 km down-motion in nontornadic supercells, a low-to-midlevel differential radar reflectivity dipole that is oriented more parallel to storm motion in tornadic supercells and more perpendicular in nontornadic supercells, and a separation between enhanced differential radar reflectivity and specific differential phase (with unique displacement-relative correlation coefficient reductions) at low levels that is more perpendicular to storm motion in tornadic supercells and more parallel in nontornadic supercells.

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Thea N. Sandmæl, Cameron R. Homeyer, Kristopher M. Bedka, Jason M. Apke, John R. Mecikalski, and Konstantin Khlopenkov

Abstract

Remote sensing observations, especially those from ground-based radars, have been used extensively to discriminate between severe and nonsevere storms. Recent upgrades to operational remote sensing networks in the United States have provided unprecedented spatial and temporal sampling to study such storms. These networks help forecasters subjectively identify storms capable of producing severe weather at the ground; however, uncertainties remain in how to objectively identify severe thunderstorms using the same data. Here, three large-area datasets (geostationary satellite, ground-based radar, and ground-based lightning detection) are used over 28 recent events in an attempt to objectively discriminate between severe and nonsevere storms, with an additional focus on severe storms that produce tornadoes. Among these datasets, radar observations, specifically those at mid- and upper levels (altitudes at and above 4 km), are shown to provide the greatest objective discrimination. Physical and kinematic storm characteristics from all analyzed datasets imply that significantly severe [≥2-in. (5.08 cm) hail and/or ≥65-kt (33.4 m s−1) straight-line winds] and tornadic storms have stronger upward motion and rotation than nonsevere and less severe storms. In addition, these metrics are greatest in tornadic storms during the time in which tornadoes occur.

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Brandon R. Smith, Thea Sandmæl, Matthew C. Mahalik, Kimberly L. Elmore, Darrel M. Kingfield, Kiel L. Ortega, and Travis M. Smith
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John R. Mecikalski, Thea N. Sandmæl, Elisa M. Murillo, Cameron R. Homeyer, Kristopher M. Bedka, Jason M. Apke, and Chris P. Jewett

Abstract

Few studies have assessed combined satellite, lightning, and radar databases to diagnose severe storm potential. The research goal here is to evaluate next-generation, 60-s update frequency geostationary satellite and lightning information with ground-based radar to isolate which variables, when used in concert, provide skillful discriminatory information for identifying severe (hail ≥ 2.5 cm in diameter, winds ≥ 25 m s−1, and tornadoes) versus nonsevere storms. The focus of this study is predicting severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A total of 2004 storms in 2014–15 were objectively tracked with 49 potential predictor fields related to May, daytime Great Plains convective storms. All storms occurred when 1-min Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-14 “super rapid scan” data were available. The study used three importance methods to assess predictor importance related to severe warnings and used random forests to provide a model and skill evaluation measuring the ability to predict severe storms. Three predictor importance methods show that GOES mesoscale atmospheric-motion-vector-derived cloud-top divergence and above-anvil cirrus plume presence provide the most satellite-based discriminatory power for diagnosing severe warnings. Other important fields include Earth Networks Total Lightning flash density, GOES estimated cloud-top vorticity, and overshooting-top presence. Severe warning predictions are significantly improved at the 95% confidence level when a few important satellite and lightning fields are combined with radar fields, versus when only radar data are used in the random-forest model. This study provides a basis for including satellite and lightning fields within machine-learning models to help forecast severe weather.

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