Are supercells resistant to entrainment because of their rotation?

John M. Peters, Christopher J. Nowotarski, Gretchen L. Mullendore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This research investigates a hypothesis posed by previous authors, which argues that the helical nature of the flow in supercell updrafts makes them more resistant to entrainment than nonsupercellular updrafts because of the suppressed turbulence in purely helical flows. It was further supposed that this entrainment resistance contributes to the steadiness and longevity of supercell updrafts. A series of idealized large-eddy simulations were run to address this idea, wherein the deep-layer shear and hodograph shape were varied, resulting in supercells in the strongly sheared runs, nonsupercells in the weakly sheared runs, and variations in the percentage of streamwise vorticity in updrafts among runs. Fourier energy spectrum analyses show welldeveloped inertial subranges in all simulations, which suggests that the percentages of streamwise and crosswise vorticity have little effect on turbulence in convective environments. Additional analyses find little evidence of updraft-scale centrifugally stable flow within updrafts, which has also been hypothesized to limit horizontal mass flux across supercell updrafts. Results suggest that supercells do have smaller fractional entrainment rates than nonsupercells, but these differences are consistent with theoretical dependencies of entrainment on updraft width, and with supercells being wider than nonsupercells. Thus, while supercells do experience reduced fractional entrainment rates and entrainment-driven dilution, this advantage is primarily attributable to increased supercell updraft width relative to ordinary convection, and has little to do with updraft helicity and rotation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1475-1495
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Are supercells resistant to entrainment because of their rotation?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this