Simulation of a progressive derecho using composite initial conditions

M. C. Coniglio, D. J. Stensrud

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This study focuses on the progressive derecho, a widespread, convectively induced windstorm produced by a mesoscale convective system that often occurs within benign synoptic-scale environment. Sounding data from 12 progressive derechos, which occurred in weakly forced large-scale environments, are composited in order to examine important large-scale features in the preconvective environment. This analysis captures many features that are common in warm season derecho environments, such as an upper-level wind maximum, a relatively dry midtroposphere, and low-level warm advection. Initial and boundary conditions for the Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research fifth-generation Mesoscale Model (MM5) are created using this analysis. A three-dimensional, horintally nonhomogeneous, explicity resolved simulation of a progressive derecho is produced and compared to previous, more idealized simulations of similar convective systems that have been used to explain the strength and structure of observed long-lived squall lines and bow echoes. A subset of previous squall line simulations produced within horizontally homogeneous environments without wind shear above 5 km suggests that a balance between the positive vorticity associated with the environmental low-level shear (Δμ) and the negative vorticity created baroclinically at the leading edge of the cold pool (C) is the essential ingredient that determines the strength and time-dependent structure of long-lived squall lines (local balance theory). In the simulation presented here, which occurs in an environment with deep-tropospheric shear but relativley weak low-level shear, the model develops a realistic, rapidly moving squall line with embedded bow echoes that maintains its strength for much longer than the squall lines within previous idealized simulations that develop and evolve within similar less than optimal balance conditions (C/Δμ > 2). Previous simulations of squall lines under similar less than optimal conditions contain updrafts that progressively weaken and become more upshear titled with time as the cold pool surges ahead of the updrafts within 1-3 after the system develops. However, the simulated squall line used here contains convective updrafts that remain almost directly above the gust front, maintains a nearly constant upshear tilt for hours, and produces severe, near-surface winds for over 8 h. Examination of the maximum grid-resolved vertical velocity indicates the cells are not weakening with time related to their thermodynamic potential, which contrasts the behavior of the cells within the less than optimal squall lines of the previous, idealized simulations. These results support the idea that local balance theory, which attempts to explain both the strength and longevity of squall lines, may be incomplete within environments that often favor warm season progressive derechos. In particular, tests with a simple two-dimensional cloud-scale model indicate that both significant upper-tropospheric shear above 5 km (which is found in the composite analysis and in the MM5 solution) and low-level shear play significant roles in maintaining the strength of squall lines over long periods and need to be considered in order to fully understand and forecast these events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1593-1616
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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