NWC Colloquium Seminar Series presents...
Convective Modes for Significant Severe Thunderstorms in the Contiguous United States
Part I: Storm Classification and Climatology
Part II: Supercell and QLCS Tornado Environments
Storm Prediction Center
23 January 2013, 3:00 PM
National Weather Center, Room 1313
120 David L. Boren Blvd.
University of Oklahoma
Radar-based convective modes were assigned to a sample of tornadoes and significant severe thunderstorms reported in the contiguous United States (CONUS) during 2003–11. The significant hail (>2-in. diameter), significant wind (>65-kt thunderstorm gusts), and tornadoes were filtered by the maximum event magnitude per hour on a 40-km Rapid Update Cycle model horizontal grid. The filtering process produced 22 901 tornado and significant severe thunderstorm events, representing 78.5% of all such reports in the CONUS during the sample period. The convective mode scheme presented herein begins with three radar based storm categories: 1) discrete cells, 2) clusters of cells, and 3) quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs). Volumetric radar data were examined for right-moving supercell (RM) and left-moving supercell characteristics within the three radar reflectivity designations. Additional categories included storms with marginal supercell characteristics and linear hybrids with a mix of supercell and QLCS structures. Smoothed kernel density estimates of events per decade revealed clear geographic and seasonal patterns of convective modes with tornadoes. Discrete and cluster RMs are the favored convective mode with southern Great Plains tornadoes during the spring, while the Deep South displayed the greatest variability in tornadic convective modes in the fall, winter, and spring. The Ohio Valley favored a higher frequency of QLCS tornadoes and a lower frequency of RM compared to the Deep South and the Great Plains. Tornadoes with nonsupercellular/non QLCS storms were more common across Florida and the high plains in the summer. Significant hail events were dominated by Great Plains supercells, while variations in convective modes were largest for significant wind events.
A sample of 22 901 tornado and significant severe thunderstorm events, filtered on an hourly 40-km grid, was collected for the period 2003–11 across the contiguous United States (CONUS). Convective mode was assigned to each case via manual examination of full volumetric radar data (Part I of this study), and environmental information accompanied each grid-hour event from the hourly objective analyses calculated and archived at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Sounding-derived parameters related to supercells and tornadoes formed the basis of this investigation owing to the dominance of right-moving supercells in tornado production and the availability of supercell-related convective parameters in the SPC environmental archive. The tornado and significant severe thunderstorm events were stratified by convective mode and season. Measures of buoyancy discriminated most strongly between supercell and quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) tornado events during the winter, while bulk wind differences and storm-relative helicity were similar for both supercell and QLCS tornado environments within in each season. The larger values of the effective-layer supercell composite parameter (SCP) and the effective-layer significant tornado parameter (STP) favored right-moving supercells that produced significant tornadoes, as opposed to weak tornadoes or supercells that produced only significant hail or damaging winds. Additionally, mesocyclone strength tended to increase with increasing SCP for supercells, and STP tended to increase as tornado damage class ratings increased. The findings underscore the importance of convective mode (discrete or cluster supercells), mesocyclone strength, and near-storm environment (as represented by large values of STP) in consistent, real-time identification of intense tornadoes.