Supercell low-level mesocyclones: Origins of inflow and vorticity

Randy Jennings

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May 18, 2013
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This has not been peer reviewed yet, and I still need to read the whole paper, but this Coffer, et.al. abstract sounds interesting.


The intensification of low-level mesocyclones in supercell thunderstorms has historically been associated with the development of storm-generated streamwise vorticity along a baroclinic gradient 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 low-level mesocyclone intensification. 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 undisturbed, 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. Contrary to prior conceptual models of low-level mesocyclones, intensification does not appear to require 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 therefore supports a revised view of low-level mesocyclones in supercells.