A Comparison of Convective Storm Inflow Moisture Variability between the Great Plains and the Southeastern United States Using Multiplatform Field Campaign Observations
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A Comparison of Convective Storm Inflow Moisture Variability between the Great Plains and the Southeastern United States Using Multiplatform Field Campaign Observations

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
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    The magnitude of water vapor content within the near-storm inflow can either support or deter the storm’s upscale growth and maintenance. However, the heterogeneity of the moisture field near storms remains poorly understood because the operational observation network lacks detail. This observational study illustrates that near-storm inflow water vapor environments are both significantly heterogeneous and different than the far-inflow storm environment. This study also depicts the importance of temporal variation of water vapor mixing ratio (WVMR) to instability during the peak tornadic seasons in the U.S. Southeast and Great Plains regions during the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment Southeast 2018 (VSE18) campaign and the Targeted Observation by Radar and UAS of Supercells (TORUS) campaign, respectively. VSE18 results suggest that the surface processes control WVMR variation significantly in lower levels, with the highest WVMR mainly located near the surface in inflows in the southeast region. In contrast, TORUS results show more vertically homogeneous WVMR profiles and rather uniform water vapor distribution variation occurring in deep, moist stratified inflows in the Great Plains region. Temporal water vapor variations within 5-min periods could lead to over 1000 J kg−1 CAPE changes in both VSE18 and TORUS, which represent significant potential buoyancy perturbations for storms to intensify or decay. These temporal water vapor and instability evolutions of moving storms remain difficult to capture via radiosondes and fixed in situ or profiling instrumentation, yet may exert a strong impact on storm evolution. This study suggests that improving observations of the variability of near-storm inflow moisture can accurately refine a potential severe weather threat. Significance Statement It has long been recognized that better observations of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) inflow near convective storms are needed to improve severe weather forecasting. The current operational networks essentially do not provide profile measurements of the PBL, except for the sparsely spaced 12-hourly sounding network. More frequent geostationary satellite observations do not provide adequately high vertical resolution in the PBL. This study uses airborne lidar profiler measurements to examine moisture in the inflow region of convective storms in the Great Plains and the southeastern United States during their respective tornadic seasons. Rapid PBL water vapor variations on a ∼5 min time scale can lead to CAPE perturbations exceeding 1000 J kg−1, representing significant perturbations that could promote storm intensification or decay. Severe thunderstorms may generate high-impact weather phenomena, such as tornadoes, high winds, hail, and heavy rainfall, which have substantial socioeconomic impacts. Ultimately, by contrasting characteristics of the convective storm inflow in the two regions, this study may lead to a more accurate assessment of severe weather threats.
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    Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 40(5), 539-556
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    0739-0572;1520-0426;
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