On the predictability of supercell thunderstorm evolution

Rebecca M. Cintineo, David J. Stensrud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Supercell thunderstorms produce a disproportionate amount of the severe weather in the United States, and accurate prediction of their movement and evolution is needed to warn the public of their hazards. This study explores the practical predictability of supercell thunderstorm forecasts in the presence of typical errors in the preconvective environmental conditions. The Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting model (ARW-WRF) is run at 1-km grid spacing and a control run of a supercell thunderstorm is produced using a horizontally homogeneous environment. Forecast errors from supercell environments derived from the 13-km Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) valid at 0000 UTC for forecast lead times up to 3 h are used to define the environmental errors, and 100 runs initialized with environmental perturbations characteristic of those errors are produced for each lead time. The simulations are analyzed to determine the spread and practical predictability of supercell thunderstorm forecasts from a storm-scale model, with the control used as truth. Most of the runs perturbed with the environmental forecast errors produce supercell thunderstorms; however, there is much less predictability for storm motion and structure. Results suggest that an upper bound to the practical predictability of storm location with the current environmental uncertainty for a 1-h environmental forecast is about 2 h, with the predictability of the storms decreasing to 1 h as lead time increases. Smaller-scale storm features, such as midlevel mesocyclones and regions of heavy rainfall, display much less predictability than storm location. Mesocyclone location is predictable out to 40 min or less, while heavy 5-min rainfall location is not predictable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1993-2011
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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