Investigating the impact of atmospheric stability on thunderstorm outflow winds and turbulence

Hawbecker, Patrick; Basu, Sukanta; Manuel, Lance

Downburst events initialized at various hours during the evening transition (ET) period are simulated to determine the effects of ambient stability on the outflow of downburst winds. The simulations are performed using a pseudo-spectral large eddy simulation model at high resolution to capture both the large-scale flow and turbulence characteristics of downburst winds. First, a simulation of the ET is performed to generate realistic initial and boundary conditions for the subsequent downburst simulations. At each hour in the ET, an ensemble of downburst simulations is initialized separately from the ET simulation in which an elevated cooling source within the model domain generates negatively buoyant air to mimic downburst formation.

The simulations show that while the stability regime changes, the ensemble mean of the peak wind speed remains fairly constant (between 35 and 38 m sinline-formula−1) and occurs at the lowest model level for each simulation. However, there is a slight increase in intensity and decrease in the spread of the maximum outflow winds as stability increases as well as an increase in the duration over which these strongest winds persist. This appears to be due to the enhanced maintenance of the ring vortex that results from the low-level temperature inversion, increased ambient shear, and a lack of turbulence within the stable cases. Coherent turbulent kinetic energy and wavelet spectral analysis generally show increased energy in the convective cases and that energy increases across all scales as the downburst passes.

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Hawbecker, Patrick / Basu, Sukanta / Manuel, Lance: Investigating the impact of atmospheric stability on thunderstorm outflow winds and turbulence. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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