Supercell Low-Level Mesocyclones: Origins of Inflow and Vorticity

Brice E. Coffer, Matthew D. Parker, John M. Peters, Andrew R. Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

The development and intensification of low-level mesocyclones in supercell thunderstorms have often been attributed, at least in part, to augmented streamwise vorticity generated baroclinically in the forward flank of supercells. However, the ambient streamwise vorticity of the environment (often quantified via storm-relative helicity), especially near the ground, is particularly skillful at discriminating between nontornadic and tornadic supercells. This study investigates whether the origins of the inflow air into supercell low-level mesocyclones, both horizontally and vertically, can help explain the dynamical role of environmental versus storm-generated vorticity in the development of low-level mesocyclone rotation. Simulations of supercells, initialized with wind profiles common to supercell environments observed in nature, show that the air bound for the low-level mesocyclone primarily originates from the ambient environment (rather than from along the forward flank) and from very close to the ground, often in the lowest 200–400 m of the atmosphere. Given that the near-ground environmental air comprises the bulk of the inflow into low-level mesocyclones, this likely explains the forecast skill of environmental streamwise vorticity in the lowest few hundred meters of the atmosphere. The low-level mesocyclone does not appear to require much augmentation from the development of additional horizontal vorticity in the forward flank. Instead, the dominant contributor to vertical vorticity within the low-level mesocyclone is from the environmental horizontal vorticity. This study provides further context to the ongoing discussion regarding the development of rotation within supercell low-level mesocyclones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2205-2232
Number of pages28
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Volume151
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science

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