Intrinsic predictability of the 20 May 2013 tornadic thunderstorm event in Oklahoma at storm scales

Yunji Zhang, Fuqing Zhang, David J. Stensrud, Zhiyong Meng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Using a high-resolution convection-allowing numerical weather prediction model, this study seeks to explore the intrinsic predictability of the severe tornadic thunderstorm event on 20 May 2013 in Oklahoma from its preinitiation environment to initiation, upscale organization, and interaction with other convective storms. This is accomplished through ensemble forecasts perturbed with minute initial condition uncertainties that were beyond detection capabilities of any current observational platforms. It was found that these small perturbations, too small to modify the initial mesoscale environmental instability and moisture fields, will be propagated and evolved via turbulence within the PBL and rapidly amplified in moist convective processes through positive feedbacks associated with updrafts, phase transitions of water species, and cold pools, thus greatly affecting the appearance, organization, and development of thunderstorms. The forecast errors remain nearly unchanged even when the initial perturbations (errors) were reduced by as much as 90%, which strongly suggests an inherently limited predictability for this thunderstorm event for lead times as short as 3-6 h. Further scale decomposition reveals rapid error growth and saturation in meso-γ scales (regardless of the magnitude of initial errors) and subsequent upscale growth into meso-β scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1273-1298
Number of pages26
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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