9.6 Factors That Drive MCS Growth from Supercells

Wednesday, 26 July 2017: 9:15 AM
Coral Reef Harbor (Crowne Plaza San Diego)
John M. Peters, NPS, Pacific Grove, CA; and K. C. Eure and R. S. Schumacher

What causes supercells to transition into MCSs in some situations, but not others? To explore this question, I first examined observed environmental characteristics of supercell events when MCSs formed, and compared them to the analogous environmental characteristics of supercell events when MCSs did not form. During events when MCS growth occurred, 0-1 km (low-level) vertical wind shear was stronger and 0-10 km (deep-layer) vertical wind shear was weaker than the wind shear during events when MCS growth did not occur.

Next, I used idealized simulations of supercell thunderstorms to understand the connections between low-level and deep-layer shear and MCS growth. Compared to simulations with strong deep-layer shear, the simulations with weak deep-layer shear had rain in the storm’s forward-flank downdraft (FFD) that fell closer to the updraft, fell through storm-moistened air and evaporated less, and produced a more intense FFD. Compared to simulations with weak low-level shear, the simulations with stronger low-level shear showed enhanced northward low-level hydrometeor transport into the FFD. Environments with strong low-level shear and weak deep-layer shear therefore conspired to produce a storm with a more intense FFD cold pool, when compared to environments with weak low-level shear and/or strong deep-layer shear. This strong FFD periodically disrupted the supercells’ mesocyclones, and favorably interacted with westerly wind shear to produce widespread linear convection initiation, which drove MCS growth. These results suggest that increasing low-level wind shear after dark – while commonly assumed to enhance tornado potential – may in fact drive MCS growth and reduce tornado potential, unless it is combined with sufficiently strong deep layer shear.

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