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Paul Markowski
and
Yvette Richardson

Abstract

Vertical wind shear is commonly classified as “directional” or “speed” shear. In this note, these classifications are reviewed and their relevance discussed with respect to the dynamics of convective storms. In the absence of surface drag, storm morphology and evolution only depend on the shape and length of a hodograph, on which the storm-relative winds depend; that is, storm characteristics are independent of the translation and rotation of a hodograph. Therefore, traditional definitions of directional and speed shear are most relevant when applied to the storm-relative wind profile.

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Paul Markowski
and
Yvette Richardson

Abstract

Dual-Doppler wind syntheses from mobile radar observations obtained during the International H2O Project document some of the spatial variability of vertical wind profiles in convective boundary layers. Much of the variability of popular forecasting parameters such as vertical wind shear magnitude and storm-relative helicity is thought to result from pressure and temperature gradients associated with mesoscale boundaries (e.g., drylines, outflow boundaries, fronts). These analyses also reveal substantial heterogeneity even in the absence of obvious mesoscale wind shifts—in regions many might have classified as “horizontally homogeneous” with respect to these parameters in the past. This heterogeneity is closely linked to kinematic perturbations associated with boundary layer convection. When a mean wind is present, the large spatial variability implies significant temporal variability in the vertical wind profiles observed at fixed locations, with the temporal variability increasing with mean wind speed. Significant differences also can arise between true hodographs and “pseudohodographs” obtained from rawinsondes that are advected horizontally as they ascend. Some possible implications of the observed heterogeneity with respect to forecasting and simulating convective storms also are discussed.

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Ryan Hastings
and
Yvette Richardson

Abstract

Mergers involving supercells remain a challenge for severe thunderstorm forecasting. In this study, mergers between supercells and ordinary cells (e.g., cells forming in a similar environment but too young to be fully developed supercells) are investigated. A series of numerical experiments are performed using an idealized, homogenous environment supportive of cyclonically rotating, right-moving supercells. Warm bubbles are introduced at different times, resulting in two storms of different maturity; their placement is used to control the location of the merger and the relative maturity of the second storm. Simplified conceptual models for the long-term outcomes of mergers are developed. In the simplest mode of merger, outflow from the new cell cuts off inflow to the original. If the new cell’s cold pool is not sufficiently strong to cut off the inflow to the original cell, the minimum separation of the updraft maxima during the merger becomes a key controlling factor in the outcome. If it is less than 10 km, an updraft collision occurs, resulting in a classic supercell. If it is greater than 20 km and the new cell merges into the original cell’s forward flank, a dual-cell system results. If it is between 10 and 20 km, the enhanced precipitation produced during the merger leads to a cold pool surge and an updraft bridge, joining the original updrafts and developing into either a small bow echo (with forward-flank mergers) or a supercell on the classic high-precipitation spectrum (with rear-flank mergers), depending on the distribution of precipitation in the merging system.

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Paul M. Markowski
and
Yvette P. Richardson

Abstract

Idealized, dry simulations are used to investigate the roles of environmental vertical wind shear and baroclinic vorticity generation in the development of near-surface vortices in supercell-like “pseudostorms.” A cyclonically rotating updraft is produced by a stationary, cylindrical heat source imposed within a horizontally homogeneous environment containing streamwise vorticity. Once a nearly steady state is achieved, a heat sink, which emulates the effects of latent cooling associated with precipitation, is activated on the northeastern flank of the updraft at low levels. Cool outflow emanating from the heat sink spreads beneath the updraft and leads to the development of near-surface vertical vorticity via the “baroclinic mechanism,” as has been diagnosed or inferred in actual supercells that have been simulated and observed.

An intense cyclonic vortex forms in the simulations in which the environmental low-level wind shear is strong and the heat sink is of intermediate strength relative to the other heat sinks tested. Intermediate heat sinks result in the development (baroclinically) of substantial near-surface circulation, yet the cold pools are not excessively strong. Moreover, the strong environmental low-level shear lowers the base of the midlevel mesocyclone, which promotes strong dynamic lifting of near-surface air that previously resided in the heat sink. The superpositioning of the dynamic lifting and circulation-rich, near-surface air having only weak negative buoyancy facilitates near-surface vorticity stretching and vortex genesis. An intense cyclonic vortex fails to form in simulations in which the heat sink is excessively strong or weak or if the low-level environmental shear is weak.

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Paul M. Markowski
and
Yvette P. Richardson

Abstract

In idealized numerical simulations of supercell-like “pseudostorms” generated by a heat source and sink in a vertically sheared environment, a tornado-like vortex develops if air possessing large circulation about a vertical axis at the lowest model levels can be converged. This is most likely to happen if the circulation-rich air possesses only weak negative buoyancy (the circulation-rich air has a history of descent, so typically possesses at least some negative buoyancy) and is subjected to an upward-directed vertical perturbation pressure gradient force. This paper further explores the sensitivity of the development of near-surface vertical vorticity to the horizontal position of the heat sink. Shifting the position of the heat sink by only 2–3 km can significantly influence vortex intensity by altering both the baroclinic generation of circulation and the buoyancy of circulation-rich air. Many of the changes in the pseudostorms that arise from shifting the position of the heat sink would be difficult to anticipate. The sensitivity of the pseudostorms to heat sink position probably at least partly explains the well-known sensitivity of near-surface vertical vorticity development to the microphysics parameterizations in more realistic supercell storm simulations, as well as some of the failures of actual supercells to produce tornadoes in seemingly favorable environments.

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Paul Markowski
,
Yvette Richardson
, and
George Bryan

Abstract

This paper investigates the origins of the (cyclonic) vertical vorticity within vortex sheets that develop within a numerically simulated supercell in a nonrotating, horizontally homogeneous environment with a free-slip lower boundary. Vortex sheets are commonly observed along the gust fronts of supercell storms, particularly in the early stages of storm development. The “collapse” of a vortex sheet into a compact vortex is often seen to accompany the intensification of rotation that occasionally leads to tornadogenesis. The vortex sheets predominantly acquire their vertical vorticity from the tilting of horizontal vorticity that has been modified by horizontal buoyancy gradients associated with the supercell’s cool low-level outflow. If the tilting is within an ascending airstream (i.e., the horizontal gradient of vertical velocity responsible for the tilting resides entirely within an updraft), the vertical vorticity of the vortex sheet nearly vanishes at the lowest model level for horizontal winds (5 m). However, if the tilting occurs within a descending airstream (i.e., the horizontal gradient of vertical velocity responsible for tilting includes a downdraft adjacent to the updraft within which the majority of the cyclonic vorticity resides), the vortex sheet extends to the lowest model level. The findings are consistent with the large body of prior work that has found that downdrafts are necessary for the development of significant vertical vorticity at the surface.

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Yvette P. Richardson
,
Kelvin K. Droegemeier
, and
Robert P. Davies-Jones

Abstract

Severe convective storms are typically simulated using either an idealized, horizontally homogeneous environment (i.e., single sounding) or an inhomogeneous environment constructed using numerous types of observations. Representing opposite ends of the spectrum, the former allows for the study of storm dynamics without the complicating effects of either land surface or atmospheric variability, though arguably at the expense of physical realism, while the latter is especially useful for prediction and data sensitivity studies, though because of its physical completeness, determination of cause can be extremely difficult. In this study, the gap between these two extremes is bridged by specifying horizontal variations in environmental vertical shear in an idealized, controlled manner so that their influence on storm morphology can be readily diagnosed. Simulations are performed using the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS), though with significant modification to accommodate the analytically specified environmental fields. Several steady-state environments are constructed herein that retain a good degree of physical realism while permitting clear interpretation of cause and effect. These experiments are compared to counterpart control simulations in homogeneous environments constructed using single wind profiles from selected locations within the inhomogeneous environment domain. Simulations in which steady-state vertical shear varies spatially are presented for different shear regimes (storm types). A gradient of weak shear across the storm system leads to preferred cell development on the flank with greater shear. In a stronger shear regime (i.e., in the borderline multicell/supercell regime), however, cell development is enhanced on the weaker shear flank while cell organization is enhanced on the strong shear side. When an entire storm system moves from weak to strong shear, changes in cell structure are influenced by local mesoscale forcing associated with the cold pool. In this particular experiment, cells near the leading edge of the cold pool, where gust front convergence occurs along a continuous line, evolve into a bow-echo structure as the shear increases. In contrast, simulated cells that remain relatively isolated on the flank of the cold pool tend to develop supercellular characteristics.

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Shawn S. Murdzek
,
Paul M. Markowski
, and
Yvette P. Richardson

Abstract

Recent high-resolution numerical simulations of supercells have identified a feature referred to as the streamwise vorticity current (SVC). Some have presumed the SVC to play a role in tornadogenesis and maintenance, though observations of such a feature have been limited. To this end, 125-m dual-Doppler wind syntheses and mobile mesonet observations are used to examine three observed supercells for evidence of an SVC. Two of the three supercells are found to contain a feature similar to an SVC, while the other supercell contains an antistreamwise vorticity ribbon on the southern fringe of the forward flank. A closer examination of the two supercells with SVCs reveals that the SVCs are located on the cool side of boundaries within the forward flank that separate colder, more turbulent flow from warmer, more laminar flow, similar to numerical simulations. Furthermore, the observed SVCs are similar to those in simulations in that they appear to be associated with baroclinic vorticity generation and have similar appearances in vertical cross sections. Aside from some apparent differences in the location of the maximum streamwise vorticity between simulated and observed SVCs, the SVCs seen in numerical simulations are indeed similar to reality. The SVC, however, may not be essential for tornadogenesis, at least for weak tornadoes, because the supercell that did not have a well-defined SVC produced at least one brief, weak tornado during the analysis period.

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Joshua Wurman
,
Curtis Alexander
,
Paul Robinson
, and
Yvette Richardson

Using an axisymmetric model of tornado structure tightly constrained by high-resolution wind field measurements collected by Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radars, the potential impacts of intense tornadoes crossing densely populated urban areas are evaluated. DOW radar measurements combined with in situ low-level wind measurements permit the quantification of low-level tornadic winds that would impact structures. Axisymmetric modeled wind fields from actual and hypothetical tornadoes are simulated to impact high-density residential and commercial districts of several major cities. U.S. census block data, satellite imagery, and other sources are used to characterize and count the number of structures impacted by intense winds, up to 132 m s−1, and estimate the level and cost of resulting damage. Census data are used to estimate residential occupancy and human casualties.

Results indicate that a large and intense tornado crossing through residential portions of Chicago, Illinois, could result in tragic consequences with winds in excess of 76 m s−1 impacting 99 km2 , substantially destroying up to 239,000 single-and dual-family housing units, occupied by up to 699,000 people, resulting in 4,500–45,000 deaths, and causing substantial damage to over 400,000 homes occupied by over 1,100,000 people. Widespread damage caused by winds exceeding 102 m s−1 could occur over a broad area of the high-rise office and apartment districts causing permanent structural damage to many such buildings. Smaller and less intense tornadoes would cause lesser, but still substantial, levels of damage and mortality. Tornadoes crossing Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; New York, New York; Saint Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, could cause varying levels of damage and mortality.

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James N. Marquis
,
Yvette P. Richardson
, and
Joshua M. Wurman

Abstract

During the International H2O Project, mobile radars collected high-resolution data of several 0.5–2-km-wide vertically oriented vortices (or misocyclones) along at least five mesoscale airmass boundaries. This study analyzes the properties of the misocyclones in three of these datasets—3, 10, and 19 June 2002—to verify findings from finescale numerical models and other past observations of misocyclones and to further the understanding of the role that they play in the initiation of deep moist convection and nonsupercell tornadoes. Misocyclones inflect or disjoint the swath of low-level convergence along each boundary to varying degrees depending on the size of their circulations. When several relatively large misocyclones are next to each other, the shape of low-level convergence along each boundary is arranged into a staircase pattern. Mergers of misocyclones are an important process in the evolution of the vorticity field, as a population of small vortices consolidates into a smaller number of larger ones. Additionally, merging misocyclones may affect the mixing of thermodynamic fields in their vicinity when the merger axis is perpendicular to the boundary. Misocyclones interact with linear and cellular structures in the planetary boundary layers (PBLs) of the air masses adjacent to each boundary. Cyclonic low-level vertical vorticity generated by both types of structures makes contact with each boundary and sometimes is incorporated into preexisting misocyclones. Intersections of either type of PBL structure with the boundary result in strengthened pockets of low-level convergence and, typically, strengthened misocyclones.

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