Circulation Around a Constrained Curve: An Alternative Analysis Tool for Diagnosing the Origins of Tornado Rotation in Numerical Supercell Simulations
Abstract Fine-resolution computer models of supercell storms generate realistic tornadic vortices. Like real tornadoes, the origins of these virtual vortices are mysterious. To diagnose the origin of a tornado, typically a near-ground material circuit is drawn around it. This circuit is then traced back in time using backward trajectories. The rate of change of the circulation around the circuit is equal to the total force circulation. This circulation theorem is used to deduce the origins of the tornado’s large vorticity. However, there is a well-known problem with this approach; with staggered grids parcel trajectories become uncertain as they dip into the layer next to the ground where horizontal wind cannot be interpolated. To circumvent this dilemma, we obtain a generalized circulation theorem that pertains to any circuit. We apply this theorem either to moving circuits that are constrained to simple surfaces or to a ‘hybrid’ circuit defined next. Let A be the horizontal surface at one grid spacing off the ground. Above A the circuit moves as a material circuit. Horizontal curve segments that move in A with the horizontal wind replace segments of the material circuit that dip below A . The circulation equation for the modified circuit includes the force circulation of the inertial force that is required to keep the curve segments horizontal. This term is easily evaluated on A . Use of planar or circular circuits facilitates explanation of some simple flows. The hybrid-circuit method significantly improves the accuracy of the circulation budget in an idealized supercell simulation.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
NSF-PAR ID:
10353434
Author(s) / Creator(s):
;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
ISSN:
0022-4928
Format(s):
Medium: X
National Science Foundation
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1. A suite of six idealized supercell simulations is performed in which the surface drag coefficient Cdis varied over a range of values from 0 to 0.05 to represent a variety of water and land surfaces. The experiments employ a new technique for enforcing a three-force balance among the pressure gradient, Coriolis, and frictional forces so that the environmental wind profile can remain unchanged throughout the simulation. The initial low-level mesocyclone lowers toward the ground, intensifies, and produces a tornado in all experiments with Cd≥ 0.002, with the intensification occurring earlier for larger Cd. In the experiment with Cd= 0, the low-level mesocyclone remains comparatively weak throughout the simulation and does not produce a tornado. Vertical cross sections through the simulated tornadoes reveal an axial downdraft that reaches the ground only in experiments with smaller Cd, as well as stronger corner flow in experiments with larger Cd. Material circuits are initialized enclosing the low-level mesocyclone in each experiment and traced backward in time. Circulation budgets for these circuits implicate surface drag acting in the inflow sector of the supercell as having generated important positive circulation, and its relative contribution increases with Cd. However, the circulation generation is similar in magnitude for the experiments with Cd= 0.02 and 0.05, and the tornado in the latter experiment is weaker. This suggests the possible existence of an optimal range of Cdvalues for promoting intense tornadoes within our experimental configuration.

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2. (Ed.)
Abstract A supercell produced a nearly tornadic vortex during an intercept by the Second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment on 26 May 2010. Using observations from two mobile radars performing dual-Doppler scans, a five-probe mobile mesonet, and a proximity sounding, factors that prevented this vortex from strengthening into a significant tornado are examined. Mobile mesonet observations indicate that portions of the supercell outflow possessed excessive negative buoyancy, likely owing in part to low boundary layer relative humidity, as indicated by a high environmental lifted condensation level. Comparisons to a tornadic supercell suggest that the Prospect Valley storm had enough far-field circulation to produce a significant tornado, but was unable to converge this circulation to a sufficiently small radius. Trajectories suggest that the weak convergence might be due to the low-level mesocyclone ingesting parcels with considerable crosswise vorticity from the near-storm environment, which has been found to contribute to less steady and weaker low-level updrafts in supercell simulations. Yet another factor that likely contributed to the weak low-level circulation was the inability of parcels rich in streamwise vorticity from the forward-flank precipitation region to reach the low-level mesocyclone, likely owing to an unfavorable pressure gradient force field. In light of these results, we suggest that future research should continue focusing on the role of internal, storm-scale processes in tornadogenesis, especially in marginal environments.
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3. Abstract

The development and intensification of low-level mesocyclones in supercell thunderstorms have often been attributed, at least in part, to augmented streamwise vorticity generated baroclinically in the forward flank of supercells. However, the ambient streamwise vorticity of the environment (often quantified via storm-relative helicity), especially near the ground, is particularly skillful at discriminating between nontornadic and tornadic supercells. This study investigates whether the origins of the inflow air into supercell low-level mesocyclones, both horizontally and vertically, can help explain the dynamical role of environmental versus storm-generated vorticity in the development of low-level mesocyclone rotation. Simulations of supercells, initialized with wind profiles common to supercell environments observed in nature, show that the air bound for the low-level mesocyclone primarily originates from the ambient environment (rather than from along the forward flank) and from very close to the ground, often in the lowest 200–400 m of the atmosphere. Given that the near-ground environmental air comprises the bulk of the inflow into low-level mesocyclones, this likely explains the forecast skill of environmental streamwise vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters of the atmosphere. The low-level mesocyclone does not appear to require much augmentation from the development of additional horizontal vorticity in the forward flank. Instead, the dominant contributor to vertical vorticity within the low-level mesocyclone is from the environmental horizontal vorticity. This study provides further context to the ongoing discussion regarding the development of rotation within supercell low-level mesocyclones.

Significance Statement

Supercell thunderstorms produce the majority of tornadoes, and a defining characteristic of supercells is their rotating updraft, known as the “mesocyclone.” When the mesocyclone is stronger at lower altitudes, the likelihood of tornadoes increases. The purpose of this study is to understand if the rotation of the mesocyclone in supercells is due to horizontal spin present in the ambient environment or whether additional horizontal spin generated by the storm itself primarily drives this rotation. Our results suggest that inflow air into supercells and low-level mesocyclone rotation are mainly due to the properties of the environmental inflow air, especially near the ground. This hopefully provides further context to how our community views the development of low-level mesocyclones in supercells.

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4. Abstract

Horizontal boundary layer roll vortices are a series of large-scale turbulent eddies that prevail in a hurricane’s boundary layer. In this paper, a one-way nested sub-kilometer-scale large-eddy simulation (LES) based on the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model was used to examine the impact of roll vortices on the evolution of Hurricane Harvey around its landfall from 0000 UTC 25 August to 1800 UTC 27 August 2017. The simulation results imply that the turbulence in the LES can be attributed mainly to roll vortices. With the representation of roll vortices, the LES provided a better simulation of hurricane wind vertical structure and precipitation. In contrast, the mesoscale simulation with the YSU PBL scheme overestimated the precipitation for the hurricane over the ocean. Further analysis indicates that the roll vortices introduced a positive vertical flux and thinner inflow layer, whereas a negative flux maintained the maximum tangential wind at around 400 m above ground. During hurricane landfall, the weak negative flux maintained the higher wind in the LES. The overestimated low-level vertical flux in the mesoscale simulation with the YSU scheme led to overestimated hurricane intensity over the ocean and accelerated the decay of the hurricane during landfall. Rainfall analysis reveals that the roll vortices led to a weak updraft and insufficient water vapor supply in the LES. For the simulation with the YSU scheme, the strong updraft combined with surplus water vapor eventually led to unrealistic heavy rainfall for the hurricane over the ocean.

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5. Abstract

A simulation of a supercell storm produced for a prior study on tornado predictability is reanalyzed for the purpose of examining the fine-scale details of tornadogenesis. It is found that the formation of a tornado-like vortex in the simulation differs from how such vortices have been understood to form in previous numerical simulations. The main difference between the present simulation and past ones is the inclusion of a turbulent boundary layer in the storm’s environment in the present case, whereas prior simulations have used a laminar boundary layer. The turbulent environment contains significant near-surface vertical vorticity (ζ> 0.03 s−1atz= 7.5 m), organized in the form of longitudinal streaks aligned with the southerly ground-relative winds. Theζstreaks are associated with corrugations in the vertical plane in the predominantly horizontal, westward-pointing environmental vortex lines; the vortex-line corrugations are produced by the vertical drafts associated with coherent turbulent structures aligned with the aforementioned southerly ground-relative winds (longitudinal coherent structures in the surface layer such as these are well known to the boundary layer and turbulence communities). Theζstreaks serve as focal points for tornadogenesis, and may actually facilitate tornadogenesis, given how near-surfaceζin the environment can rapidly amplify when subjected to the strong, persistent convergence beneath a supercell updraft.

Significance Statement

In high-resolution computer simulations of supercell storms that include a more realistic, turbulent environment, the means by which tornado-like vortices form differs from the mechanism identified in prior simulations using a less realistic, laminar environment. One possibility is that prior simulations develop intense vortices for the wrong reasons. Another possibility could be that tornadoes form in a wide range of ways in the real atmosphere, even within supercell storms that appear to be similar, and increasingly realistic computer simulations are finally now capturing that diversity.

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