Direct surface thermodynamic observations within the rear-flank downdrafts of nontornadic and tornadic supercells

Paul M. Markowski, Jerry M. Straka, Erik N. Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


Despite the long-surmised importance of the hook echo and rear-flank downdraft (RFD) in tornadogenesis, only a paucity of direct observations have been obtained at the surface within hook echoes and RFDs. In this paper, in situ surface observations within hook echoes and RFDs are analyzed. These "mobile mesonet" data have unprecedented horizontal spatial resolution and were obtained from the Verifications of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX) and additional field experiments conducted since the conclusion of VORTEX. The surface thermodynamic characteristics of hook echoes and RFDs associated with tornadic and nontornadic supercells are investigated to address whether certain types of hook echoes and RFDs are favorable (or unfavorable) for tornadogenesis. Tornadogenesis is more likely and tornado intensity and longevity increase as the surface buoyancy, potential buoyancy (as measured by the convective available potential energy), and equivalent potential temperature in the RFD increase, and as the convective inhibition associated with RFD parcels at the surface decreases. It is hypothesized that evaporative cooling and entrainment of midlevel potentially cold air may play smaller roles in the development of RFDs associated with tornadic supercells compared to nontornadic supercells. Furthermore, baroclinity at the surface within the hook echo is not a necessary condition for tornadogenesis. It also will be shown that environments characterized by high boundary layer relative humidity (and low cloud base) may be more conducive to RFDs associated with relatively high buoyancy than environments characterized by low boundary layer relative humidity (and high cloud base).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1692-1721
Number of pages30
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Direct surface thermodynamic observations within the rear-flank downdrafts of nontornadic and tornadic supercells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this