skip to main content


Title: Transition of Near-Ground Vorticity Dynamics during Tornadogenesis
Abstract

Although much is known about the environmental conditions necessary for supercell tornadogenesis, the near-ground vorticity dynamics during the tornadogenesis process itself are still somewhat poorly understood. For instance, seemingly contradicting mechanisms responsible for large near-ground vertical vorticity can be found in the literature. Broadly, these mechanisms can be sorted into two classes, one being based on upward tilting of mainly baroclinically produced horizontal vorticity in descending air (here called the downdraft mechanism), while in the other the horizontal vorticity vector is abruptly tilted upward practically at the surface by a strong updraft gradient (referred to as the in-and-up mechanism). In this study, full-physics supercell simulations and highly idealized simulations show that both mechanisms play important roles during tornadogenesis. Pretornadic vertical vorticity maxima are generated via the downdraft mechanism, while the dynamics of a fully developed vortex are dominated by the in-and-up mechanism. Consequently, a transition between the two mechanisms occurs during tornadogenesis. This transition is a result of axisymmetrization of the pretornadic vortex patch and intensification via vertical stretching. These processes facilitate the development of the corner flow, which enables production of vertical vorticity by upward tilting of horizontal vorticity practically at the surface, i.e., the in-and-up mechanism. The transition of mechanisms found here suggests that early stages of tornado formation rely on the downdraft mechanism, which is often limited to a small vertical component of baroclinically generated vorticity. Subsequently, a larger supply of horizontal vorticity (produced baroclinically or via surface drag, or even imported from the environment) may be utilized, which marks a considerable change in the vortex dynamics.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1651786
NSF-PAR ID:
10363275
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  
Publisher / Repository:
American Meteorological Society
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Volume:
79
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0022-4928
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 467-483
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    This study analyzes aboveground thermodynamic observations in three tornadic supercells obtained via swarms of small balloon-borne sondes acting aspseudo-Lagrangiandrifters; the storm-relative winds draw the sondes through the precipitation, outflow, and baroclinic zones, which are believed to play key roles in tornado formation. Three-dimensional thermodynamic analyses are produced from the in situ observations. The coldest air is found at the lowest analysis levels, where virtual potential temperature deficits of 2–5 K are observed. Air parcels within the forward-flank outflow are inferred from their equivalent potential temperatures to have descended only a few hundred meters or less, whereas parcels within the rear-flank outflow are inferred to have downward excursions of 1–2 km. Additionally, the parcels following paths toward the low-level mesocyclone pass through horizontal buoyancy gradients that are strongest in the lowest 750 m and estimated to be capable of baroclinically generating horizontal vorticity having a magnitude of 6–10 × 10−3s−1. A substantial component of the baroclinically generated vorticity is initially crosswise, though the vorticity subsequently could become streamwise given the leftward bending of the airstream in which the vorticity is generated. The baroclinically generated vorticity could contribute to tornado formation upon being tilted upward and stretched near the surface beneath a strong, dynamically forced updraft.

    Significance Statement

    Swarms of balloon-borne probes are used to produce the first-ever, three-dimensional mappings of temperature from in situ observations within supercell storms (rotating storms with high tornado potential). Temperature has a strong influence on the buoyancy of air, and horizontal variations of buoyancy generate spin about a horizontal axis. Buoyancy is one of the primary drivers of upward and downward motions in thunderstorms, and in supercell storms, horizontally oriented spin can be tipped into the vertical and amplified by certain arrangements of upward and downward motions. Unfortunately, the long-standing lack of temperature observations has hampered scientists’ ability to evaluate computer simulations and the tornadogenesis theories derived from them. We find that significant spin could be generated by the horizontal buoyancy variations sampled by the probes.

     
    more » « less
  2. 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.

     
    more » « less
  3. Despite their structural differences, supercells and quasi-linear convective systems (QLCS) are both capable of producing severe weather, including tornadoes. Previous research has highlighted multiple potential mechanisms by which horizontal vorticity may be reoriented into the vertical at low levels, but it is not clear in which situation what mechanism dominates. In this study, we use the CM1 model to simulate three different storm modes, each of which developed relatively large near-surface vertical vorticity. Using forward-integrated parcel trajectories, we analyze vorticity budgets and demonstrate that there seems to be a common mechanism for maintaining the near-surface vortices across storm structures. The parcels do not acquire vertical vorticity until they reach the base of the vortices. The vertical vorticity results from vigorous upward tilting and simultaneous vertical stretching. While the parcels analyzed in our simulations do have a history of descent, they do not acquire appreciable vertical vorticity during their descent. Rather, during the analysis period relatively large horizontal vorticity develops as a result of horizontal stretching by the horizontal wind, such that it can be effectively tilted into the vertical. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract Supercell storms can develop a “dynamical response” whereby upward accelerations in the lower troposphere amplify as a result of rotationally induced pressure falls aloft. These upward accelerations likely modulate a supercell’s ability to stretch near-surface vertical vorticity to achieve tornadogenesis. This study quantifies such a dynamical response as a function of environmental wind profiles commonly found near supercells. Self-organizing maps (SOMs) were used to identify recurring low-level wind profile patterns from 20,194 model-analyzed, near-supercell soundings. The SOM nodes with larger 0–500 m storm-relative helicity (SRH) and streamwise vorticity ( ω s ) corresponded to higher observed tornado probabilities. The distilled wind profiles from the SOMs were used to initialize idealized numerical simulations of updrafts. In environments with large 0–500 m SRH and large ω s , a rotationally induced pressure deficit, increased dynamic lifting, and a strengthened updraft resulted. The resulting upward-directed accelerations were an order of magnitude stronger than typical buoyant accelerations. At 500 m AGL, this dynamical response increased the vertical velocity by up to 25 m s –1 , vertical vorticity by up to 0.2 s –1 , and pressure deficit by up to 5 hPa. This response specifically augments the near-ground updraft (the midlevel updraft properties are almost identical across the simulations). However, dynamical responses only occurred in environments where 0–500 m SRH and ω s exceeded 110 m 2 s –2 and 0.015 s –1 , respectively. The presence vs. absence of this dynamical response may explain why environments with higher 0–500 m SRH and ω s correspond to greater tornado probabilities. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Large midlevel (3–6 km AGL) shear is commonly observed in supercell environments. However, any possible influence of midlevel shear on an updraft has been relatively unexplored until now. To investigate, we ran 10 simulations of supercells in a range of environments with varying midlevel shear magnitudes. In most cases, larger midlevel shear results in a storm motion that is faster relative to the low-level hodograph, meaning that larger midlevel shear leads to stronger low-level storm-relative flow. Because they are physically connected, we present an analysis of the effects of both midlevel shear and low-level storm-relative flow on supercell updraft dynamics. Larger midlevel shear does not lead to an increase in cohesive updraft rotation. The tilting of midlevel environmental vorticity does lead to localized areas of larger vertical vorticity on the southern edge of the updraft, but any dynamical influence of this is overshadowed by that of much larger horizontal vorticity in the same area associated with rotor-like circulations. This storm-generated horizontal vorticity is the primary driver behind lower nonlinear dynamic pressure on the southern flank of the midlevel updraft when midlevel shear and low-level storm-relative flow are larger, which leads to a larger nonlinear dynamic pressure acceleration in those cases. Storm-generated horizontal vorticity is responsible for the lowest nonlinear dynamic pressure anywhere in the midlevel updraft, unless the mesocyclone becomes particularly intense. These results clarify the influence of midlevel shear on a supercell thunderstorm, and provide additional insight on the role of low-level storm-relative flow on updraft dynamics.

    Significance Statement

    Persistent rotation in supercell thunderstorms results from the tilting of horizontal spin into the vertical direction. This initially horizontal spin is the result of shear, which is a change in wind speed and/or direction with height. More shear in the layer 0–3 km above ground level is well understood to lead to stronger rotation within the storm, but the influence of shear in the 3–6-km layer is unclear and is investigated here. We find that horizontal spin originating in the 3–6-km layer has little impact on vertically oriented thunderstorm rotation. Instead, intense regions of horizontal spin that are generated by the storm itself (rather than having originated from the background environment) dominate storm dynamics at midlevels.

     
    more » « less