Multiscale Aspects of the 26–27 April 2011 Tornado Outbreak. Part I: Outbreak Chronology and Environmental Evolution
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Multiscale Aspects of the 26–27 April 2011 Tornado Outbreak. Part I: Outbreak Chronology and Environmental Evolution

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Multiscale Aspects of the 26–27 April 2011 Tornado Outbreak. Part I: Outbreak Chronology and Environmental Evolution


  • Journal Title:
    Monthly Weather Review
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    One of the most prolific tornado outbreaks ever documented occurred on 26–27 April 2011 and comprised three successive episodes of tornadic convection that primarily impacted the southeastern United States, including two quasi-linear convective systems (hereinafter QLCS1 and QLCS2) that preceded the notorious outbreak of long-track, violent tornadoes spawned by numerous supercells on the afternoon of 27 April. The ∼36-h period encompassing these three episodes was part of a longer multiday outbreak that occurred ahead of a slowly moving upper-level trough over the Rocky Mountains. Here in Part I, we detail how the environment evolved to support this extended outbreak, with particular attention given to the three successive systems that each exhibited a different morphology and severity. The amplifying upper-level trough and attendant jet streak resulted from a Rossby wave–breaking event that yielded a complex tropopause structure and supported three prominent shortwave troughs that sequentially moved into the south-central United States. QLCS1 formed ahead of the second shortwave and was accompanied by rapid flow modifications, including considerable low-level jet (LLJ) intensification. The third shortwave moved into the lee of the Rockies early on 27 April to yield destabilization behind QLCS1 and support the formation of QLCS2, which was followed by further LLJ intensification and helped to establish favorable deep-layer shear profiles over the warm sector. The afternoon supercell outbreak commenced following the movement of this shortwave into the Mississippi Valley, which was attended by a deep tropopause fold, cold front aloft, and dryline that promoted two prominent bands of tornadic supercells over the Southeast. Significance Statement The tornado outbreak that impacted the United States on 26–27 April 2011 was part of an extended outbreak that produced 343 tornadoes and numerous fatalities. This paper is Part I of a study that describes the meteorological factors supporting such a prolific event. We focus on a 36-h period encompassing three convective episodes that impacted the Southeast and culminated in the widespread formation of long-track, violent tornadoes. Flow enhancements accompanying the first two episodes and the movement of a cold front aloft into the Southeast were found to contribute to the evolution of the final and most devastating episode. Part II describes how the first two episodes directly modified the environment to enhance the severity of this outbreak.
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    Monthly Weather Review, 150(2), 309-335
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