Environmental Evolution of Supercell Thunderstorms Interacting with the Appalachian Mountains
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Environmental Evolution of Supercell Thunderstorms Interacting with the Appalachian Mountains

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  • Journal Title:
    Weather and Forecasting
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    The Appalachian Mountains have a considerable impact on daily weather, including severe convection, across the eastern United States. However, the impact of the Appalachians on supercells is not well understood, posing a short-term forecast challenge across the region. While case studies have been conducted, there has been no large multicase analysis of supercells interacting with complex terrain. To address this gap, we examined 62 isolated warm-season supercells that occurred within the central or southern Appalachians. Each supercell was broadly classified as “crossing” or “noncrossing” based on their maintenance of supercellular structure during interaction with significant terrain features. Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) and the Rapid Refresh (RAP) model analyses were used to identify key synoptic and mesoscale factors that distinguish between environments supportive of crossing versus noncrossing supercells. Roughly 40% of supercells were sustained crossing significant terrain. Pre-storm synoptic features common among crossing storms (relative to noncrossing storms) included a stronger polar jet, a deeper trough, a north–south-oriented cold front, a strong prefrontal low-level jet, and no wedge front leeward of the terrain. Mesoscale environmental differences were determined using near-storm model soundings collected for each supercell at three locations: upstream initiation, peak terrain, and downstream dissipation. The most significant mesoscale differences were present in the peak and downstream environments, whereby crossing storms encountered stronger low-level vertical shear, greater storm-relative helicity, and greater midlevel moisture than noncrossing storms. Such results reenforce the notion that sustained dynamical support for mesocyclones is critical to supercell maintenance when interacting with significant terrain. Significance Statement The ability of isolated storms with rotating updrafts to traverse complex terrain is not well understood and is a notable forecast problem in the eastern United States due to the Appalachian Mountains. This study represents the first systematic analysis of numerous warm-season supercells in the vicinity of the central and southern Appalachians. We focus on synoptic and near-storm mesoscale environmental differences between storms that maintain supercellular structure following terrain interaction (“crossing”) and those that do not (“noncrossing”). The results provide useful environmental metrics for forecasting supercell longevity in the vicinity of the Appalachian Mountains.
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    Weather and Forecasting, 38(1), 179-198
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