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The Effect of Neglecting the Virtual Temperature Correction on CAPE Calculations

Charles A. Doswell IIINOAA/Environmental Research Laboratories, National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Erik N. RasmussenNOAA/Environmental Research Laboratories, National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

A simple theoretical analysis of the impact of neglecting the virtual correction on calculation of CAPE is made. This theory suggests that while ignoring the virtual correction does not introduce much error for large CAPE values, the relative error can become substantial for small CAPE. A test of the theory is done by finding the error made by ignoring the virtual correction to CAPE for all the soundings in 1992 having positive CAPE (when the correction is made). Results of this empirical test confirm that the relative error made in ignoring the correction increases with decreasing CAPE. A number of other “corrections” to CAPE might be considered. In a discussion of the issues associated with the results of the analysis, it is recommended that CAPE calculations should include the virtual correction but that other complications should be avoided for most purposes, especially when making comparisons of CAPE values. A standardized CAPE calculation also is recommended.

Abstract

A simple theoretical analysis of the impact of neglecting the virtual correction on calculation of CAPE is made. This theory suggests that while ignoring the virtual correction does not introduce much error for large CAPE values, the relative error can become substantial for small CAPE. A test of the theory is done by finding the error made by ignoring the virtual correction to CAPE for all the soundings in 1992 having positive CAPE (when the correction is made). Results of this empirical test confirm that the relative error made in ignoring the correction increases with decreasing CAPE. A number of other “corrections” to CAPE might be considered. In a discussion of the issues associated with the results of the analysis, it is recommended that CAPE calculations should include the virtual correction but that other complications should be avoided for most purposes, especially when making comparisons of CAPE values. A standardized CAPE calculation also is recommended.

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