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Dylan W. Reif and Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

A nocturnal maximum in rainfall and thunderstorm activity over the central Great Plains has been widely documented, but the mechanisms for the development of thunderstorms over that region at night are still not well understood. Elevated convection above a surface frontal boundary is one explanation, but this study shows that many thunderstorms form at night without the presence of an elevated frontal inversion or nearby surface boundary.

This study documents convection initiation (CI) events at night over the central Great Plains from 1996 to 2015 during the months of April–July. Storm characteristics such as storm type, linear system orientation, initiation time and location, and others were documented. Once all of the cases were documented, surface data were examined to locate any nearby surface boundaries. The event’s initiation location relative to these boundaries (if a boundary existed) was documented. Two main initiation locations relative to a surface boundary were identified: on a surface boundary and on the cold side of a surface boundary; CI events also occur without any nearby surface boundary. There are many differences among the different nocturnal CI modes. For example, there appear to be two main peaks of initiation time at night: one early at night and one later at night. The later peak is likely due to the events that form without a nearby surface boundary. Finally, a case study of three nocturnal CI events that occurred during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field project when there was no nearby surface boundary is discussed.

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Dylan W. Reif and Howard B. Bluestein

Abstract

The number of case studies in the literature of nocturnal convection has increased during the past decade, especially those that utilize high-spatiotemporal-resolution datasets from field experiments such as the International H2O Project (IHOP_2002) and Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN). However, there are few case studies of events for convection initiation without a nearby surface boundary. These events account for approximately 25% of all nocturnal convection initiation (CI) events. Unique characteristics of these events include a peak initiation time later at night, a preferred initiation location in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska, and a preferred north–south orientation to linear convective systems. In this study, four case studies of convection that is initiated without a nearby surface boundary are detailed to reveal a number of possible initiation mechanisms, including quasigeostrophic-aided ascent, elevated ascent associated with convergent layers (of unknown causes), the low-level jet, and gravity waves. The case studies chosen illustrate the wide variety of synoptic-scale conditions under which these events can occur.

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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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Jeffrey C. Snyder, Howard B. Bluestein, Zachary B. Wienhoff, Charles M. Kuster, and Dylan W. Reif

Abstract

Tornadic supercells moved across parts of Oklahoma on the afternoon and evening of 9 May 2016. One such supercell, while producing a long-lived tornado, was observed by nearby WSR-88D radars to contain a strong anticyclonic velocity couplet on the lowest elevation angle. This couplet was located in a very atypical position relative to the ongoing cyclonic tornado and to the supercell’s updraft. A storm survey team identified damage near where this couplet occurred, and, in the absence of evidence refuting otherwise, the damage was thought to have been produced by an anticyclonic tornado. However, such a tornado was not seen in near-ground, high-resolution radar data from a much closer, rapid-scan, mobile radar. Rather, an elongated velocity couplet was observed only at higher elevation angles at altitudes similar to those at which the WSR-88D radars observed the strong couplet. This paper examines observations from two WSR-88D radars and a mobile radar from which it is argued that the anticyclonic couplet (and a similar one ~10 min later) were actually quasi-horizontal vortices centered ~1–1.5 km AGL. The benefits of having data from a radar much closer to the convective storm being sampled (e.g., better spatial resolution and near-ground data coverage) and providing more rapid volume updates are readily apparent. An analysis of these additional radar data provides strong, but not irrefutable, evidence that the anticyclonic tornado that may be inferred from WSR-88D data did not exist; consequently, upon discussions with the National Weather Service, it was not included in Storm Data.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Glen S. Romine, Richard Rotunno, Dylan W. Reif, and Christopher C. Weiss

Abstract

Vertical shear in the boundary layer affects the mode of convective storms that can exist if they are triggered. In western portions of the southern Great Plains of the United States, vertical shear, in the absence of any transient features, changes diurnally in a systematic way, thus leading to a preferred time of day for the more intense modes of convection when the shear, particularly at low levels, is greatest. In this study, yearly and seasonally averaged wind observations for each time of day are used to document the diurnal variations in wind at the surface and in the boundary layer, with synoptic and mesoscale features effectively filtered out. Data from surface mesonets in Oklahoma and Texas, Doppler wind profilers, instrumented tower data, and seasonally averaged wind data for each time of day from convection-allowing numerical model forecasts are used. It is shown through analysis of observations and model data that the perturbation wind above anemometer level turns in a clockwise manner with time, in a manner consistent with prior studies, yet the perturbation wind at anemometer level turns in an anomalous, counterclockwise manner with time. Evidence is presented based on diagnosis of the model forecasts that the dynamics during the early evening boundary layer transition are, in large part, responsible for the behavior of the hodographs at that time: as vertical mixing in the boundary layer diminishes, the drag on the wind at anemometer level persists, leading to rapid deceleration of the meridional component of the wind. This deceleration acts to turn the wind to the left rather than to the right, as would be expected from the Coriolis force alone.

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Dylan W. Reif, Howard B. Bluestein, Tammy M. Weckwerth, Zachary B. Wienhoff, and Manda B. Chasteen

Abstract

The maximum upward vertical velocity at the leading edge of a density current is commonly <10 m s−1. Studies of the vertical velocity, however, are relatively few, in part owing to the dearth of high-spatiotemporal-resolution observations. During the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field project, a mobile Doppler lidar measured a maximum vertical velocity of 13 m s−1 at the leading edge of a density current created by a mesoscale convective system during the night of 15 July 2015. Two other vertically pointing instruments recorded 8 m s−1 vertical velocities at the leading edge of the density current on the same night. This study describes the structure of the density current and attempts to estimate the maximum vertical velocity at their leading edges using the following properties: the density current depth, the slope of its head, and its perturbation potential temperature. The method is then be applied to estimate the maximum vertical velocity at the leading edge of density currents using idealized numerical simulations conducted in neutral and stable atmospheres with resting base states and in neutral and stable atmospheres with vertical wind shear. After testing this method on idealized simulations, this method is then used to estimate the vertical velocity at the leading edge of density currents documented in several previous studies. It was found that the maximum vertical velocity can be estimated to within 10%–15% of the observed or simulated maximum vertical velocity and indirectly accounts for parameters including environmental wind shear and static stability.

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Mathias W. Rotach, Georg Wohlfahrt, Armin Hansel, Matthias Reif, Johannes Wagner, and Alexander Gohm

Among the processes contributing to the global CO2 budget, net uptake by the land surface bears the largest uncertainty. Therefore, the land sink is often estimated as the residual from the other terms that are known with greater certainty. On average over the last decades, the difference between modeled land surface uptake and this residual is negative, thus suggesting that the different modeling approaches miss an important part in land–atmosphere exchange. Based on experience with atmospheric modeling at high resolution, it is argued that this discrepancy is likely due to missed mesoscale (thermally or dynamically forced) circulations in complex terrain. Noting that more than 50% of the land surface qualifies as complex terrain, the contribution of mesoscale circulations is hypothesized to alleviate at least partly the uncertainty in the modeled land surface uptake. While atmospheric models at coarse resolution (e.g., for numerical weather prediction; also climate simulations) use a parameterization to account for momentum exchange due to subgrid-scale topography, no such additional exchange is presently taken into account for energy or mass. It is thus suggested that a corresponding parameterization should be developed in order to reduce the uncertainties in the global carbon budget.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Daniel T. Lindsey, Daniel Bikos, Dylan W. Reif, and Zachary B. Wienhoff

Abstract

This is a study of a tornadic supercell in Kansas on 14 May 2018 in which data of relatively high spatiotemporal resolution from a mobile, polarimetric, X-band, Doppler radar were integrated with GOES-16 geosynchronous satellite imagery, and with fixed-site, surveillance, S-band polarimetric Doppler radar data. The data-collection period spanned the early life of the storm from when it was just a series of ordinary cells, with relatively low cloud tops, through its evolution into a supercell with much higher cloud tops, continuing through the formation and dissipation of a brief tornado, and ending after the supercell came to a stop and reversed direction, produced another tornado, and collided with a quasi-linear convective system. The main goal of this study was to examine the relationship between the overshooting tops and radar observed features prior to and during tornadogenesis. The highest radar echo top was displaced about 10 km, mainly to the north or northeast of the main updraft and cloud top, from the supercell phase through the first tornado phase of the supercell phase, after which the updraft and the cloud top became more closely located and then jumped ahead; this behavior is consistent with what would be expected during cyclic mesocyclogenesis. The change in direction of the supercell later on occurred while the nocturnal low-level jet was intensifying. No relationship was apparent between changes in the highest cloud-top height and tornadogenesis, but changes in cloud-top heights (rapid increases and rapid decreases) were related to two phases in multicell evolution and to supercell formation.

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Zachary B. Wienhoff, Howard B. Bluestein, Dylan W. Reif, Roger M. Wakimoto, Louis J. Wicker, and James M. Kurdzo

Abstract

On 24 May 2016, a supercell that produced 13 tornadoes near Dodge City, Kansas, was documented by a rapid-scanning, X-band, polarimetric, Doppler radar (RaXPol). The anomalous nature of this storm, particularly the significant deviations in storm motion from the mean flow and number of tornadoes produced, is examined and discussed. RaXPol observed nine tornadoes with peak radar-derived intensities (ΔV max) and durations ranging from weak (~60 m s−1) and short lived (<30 s) to intense (>150 m s−1) and long lived (>25 min). This case builds on previous studies of tornado debris signature (TDS) evolution with continuous near-surface sampling of multiple strong tornadoes. The TDS sizes increased as the tornadoes intensified but lacked direct correspondence to tornado intensity otherwise. The most significant growth of the TDS in both cases was linked to two substantial rear-flank-downdraft surges and subsequent debris ejections, resulting in growth of the TDSs to more than 3 times their original sizes. The TDS was also observed to continue its growth as the tornadoes decayed and lofted debris fell back to the surface. The TDS size and polarimetric composition were also found to correspond closely to the underlying surface cover, which resulted in reductions in Z DR in wheat fields and growth of the TDS in terraced dirt fields as a result of ground scouring. TDS growth with respect to tornado vortex tilt is also discussed.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Zachary B. Wienhoff, David D. Turner, Dylan W. Reif, Jeffrey C. Snyder, Kyle J. Thiem, and Jana B. Houser

Abstract

The objectives of this study are to determine the finescale characteristics of the wind and temperature fields associated with a prefrontal wind-shift line and to contrast them with those associated with a strong cold front. Data from a mobile, polarimetric, X-band, Doppler radar and from a surveillance S-band radar, temperature profiles retrieved from a thermodynamic sounder, and surface observations from the Oklahoma Mesonet are used to analyze a prefrontal wind-shift line in Oklahoma on 11 November 2013. Data from the same mobile radar and the Oklahoma Mesonet are used to identify the finescale characteristics of the wind field associated with a strong surface cold front in Oklahoma on 9 April 2013. It is shown that the prefrontal wind-shift line has a kinematic and thermodynamic structure similar to that of an intrusion (elevated density current), while the cold front has a kinematic structure similar to that of a classic density current. Other characteristics of the prefrontal wind-shift line and front are also discussed. Evidence of waves generated at the leading edge of the prefrontal wind-shift line is presented.

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