The influence of vertical wind shear on moist thermals

John M. Peters, Walter Hannah, Hugh Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Although it is well established that vertical wind shear helps to organize and maintain convective systems, there is a longstanding colloquial notion that it inhibits the development of deep convection. To investigate this idea, the vertical momentum budgets of sheared and unsheared moist thermals were compared in idealized cloud model simulations. Consistent with the idea of vertical wind shear inhibiting convective development, convection generally deepened at a slower rate in sheared simulations than in unsheared simulations, and the termination heights of thermals in sheared runs were correspondingly lower. These differences in deepening rates resulted from weaker vertical acceleration of thermals in the sheared compared to the unsheared runs. Downward-oriented dynamic pressure acceleration was enhanced by vertical wind shear, which was the primary reason for relatively weak upward acceleration of sheared thermals. This result contrasts with previous ideas that entrainment or buoyant perturbation pressure accelerations are the primary factors inhibiting the growth of sheared convection. A composite thermal analysis indicates that enhancement of dynamic pressure acceleration in the sheared runs is caused by asymmetric aerodynamic lift forces associated with shear-driven cross flow perpendicular to the direction of the thermals' ascent. These results provide a plausible explanation for why convection is slower to deepen in sheared environments and why slanted convection tends to be weaker than upright convection in squall lines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1645-1659
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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