Disentangling the Influences of Storm-Relative Flow and Horizontal Streamwise Vorticity on Low-Level Mesocyclones in Supercells

John M. Peters, Brice E. Coffer, Matthew D. Parker, Christopher J. Nowotarski, Jake P. Mulholland, Cameron J. Nixon, John T. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Sufficient low-level storm-relative flow is a necessary ingredient for sustained supercell thunderstorms and is connected to supercell updraft width. Assuming a supercell exists, the role of low-level storm-relative flow in regulating supercells' low-level mesocyclone intensity is less clear. One possibility considered in this article is that storm-relative flow controls mesocyclone and tornado width via its modulation of overall updraft extent. This hypothesis relies on a previously postulated positive correspondence between updraft width, mesocyclone width, and tornado width. An alternative hypothesis is that mesocyclone characteristics are primarily regulated by horizontal streamwise vorticity irrespective of storm-relative flow. A matrix of supercell simulations was analyzed to address the aforementioned hypotheses, wherein horizontal streamwise vorticity and storm-relative flow were independently varied. Among these simulations, mesocyclone width and intensity were strongly correlated with horizontal streamwise vorticity, and comparatively weakly correlated with storm-relative flow, supporting the second hypothesis. Accompanying theory and trajectory analysis offers the physical explanation that, when storm-relative flow is large and updrafts are wide, vertically tilted streamwise vorticity is projected over a wider area but with a lesser average magnitude than when these parameters are small. These factors partially offset one another, degrading the correspondence of storm-relative flow with updraft circulation and rotational velocity, which are the mesocyclone attributes most closely tied to tornadoes. These results refute the previously purported connections between updraft width, mesocyclone width, and tornado width, and emphasize horizontal streamwise vorticity as the primary control on low-level mesocyclones in sustained supercells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-149
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Volume80
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Deep convection
  • Mesocyclones
  • Severe storms
  • Supercells
  • Tornadoes
  • Wind shear

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