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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 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 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 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 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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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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Mario Majcen, Paul Markowski, Yvette Richardson, David Dowell, and Joshua Wurman

Abstract

This note assesses the improvements in dual-Doppler wind syntheses by employing a multipass Barnes objective analysis in the interpolation of radial velocities to a Cartesian grid, as opposed to a more typical single-pass Barnes objective analysis. Steeper response functions can be obtained by multipass objective analyses; that is, multipass objective analyses are less damping at well-resolved wavelengths (e.g., 8–20Δ, where Δ is the data spacing) than single-pass objective analyses, while still suppressing small-scale (<4Δ) noise. Synthetic dual-Doppler data were generated from a three-dimensional numerical simulation of a supercell thunderstorm in a way that emulates the data collection by two mobile radars. The synthetic radial velocity data from a pair of simulated radars were objectively analyzed to a grid, after which the three-dimensional wind field was retrieved by iteratively computing the horizontal divergence and integrating the anelastic mass continuity equation. Experiments with two passes and three passes of the Barnes filter were performed, in addition to a single-pass objective analysis. Comparison of the analyzed three-dimensional wind fields to the model wind fields suggests that multipass objective analysis of radial velocity data prior to dual-Doppler wind synthesis is probably worth the added computational cost. The improvements in the wind syntheses derived from multipass objective analyses are even more apparent for higher-order fields such as vorticity and divergence, and for trajectory calculations and pressure/buoyancy retrievals.

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

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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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Zack Byko, Paul Markowski, Yvette Richardson, Josh Wurman, and Edwin Adlerman

Abstract

This paper is motivated by the recent interest in the “descending reflectivity cores” (DRCs) that have been observed in some supercell thunderstorms prior to the development or intensification of low-level rotation. The DRCs of interest descend on the right rear flank of the storms and are small in scale, relative to the main radar echo. They are observed to descend from the echo overhang and, upon reaching low levels, have been found to contribute to the formation or evolution of hook echoes, which are perhaps the most familiar radar characteristic of supercells. Herein, observations of DRCs obtained by a mobile Doppler radar at close range are presented. The data afford higher-resolution views of DRCs and their accompanying radial velocity fields than typically are available from operational radars, although one drawback is that some of the larger-scale perspective is sacrificed (e.g., the origin of the DRC and its possible connection to the reflectivity near the updraft summit are within the cone of silence). It is found that it is difficult to generalize a relationship between the observations of DRCs and the subsequent evolution of the low-level wind field.

The results of a three-dimensional numerical simulation of a supercell thunderstorm also are presented. DRCs are a common development within the simulation despite the use of a simple (warm rain) microphysics parameterization. The simulation allows for an investigation of the aspects of DRCs that cannot be ascertained using single-Doppler radar observations, for example, DRC formation mechanisms, the relationship between DRCs and the three-dimensional wind field, and the thermodynamic fields that accompany DRCs. Three different mechanisms are identified by which DRCs can develop in the model, not all of which are followed by increases in low-level rotation. This finding might account for the aforementioned difficulty in generalizing associations between DRCs and changes in the low-level wind field observed by mobile radar, as well as the fact that prior studies also have produced somewhat mixed results with respect to the potential of DRC detection to aid in the operational forecasting of tornadogenesis.

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