July 14, 2022
Journal Article

Environmental controls on simulated deep moist convection initiation occurring during RELAMPAGO-CACTI


This study synthesizes the results of ~20 large eddy simulations of deep convective updrafts forming over idealized terrain using environments observed during the RELAMPAGO and CACTI field projects. Using composite soundings from multiple observed cases, and variations upon them, we explore the sensitivity of updraft properties (e.g., size, buoyancy, and vertical pressure gradient forces) to influences of environmental relative humidity, wind shear, and mesoscale orographic forcing that support or suppress deep convection initiation (CI). Emphasis is placed on differentiating physical processes affecting the development of updrafts (e.g., entrainment-driven dilution of updrafts) in environments typifying observed successful CI and null (i.e., no CI despite affirmative model forecasts) events. Thermally-induced mesoscale orographic lift favors the production of deep updrafts originating from ~1–2-km-wide boundary layer thermals. Simulations without terrain forcing required much larger (~5-km-wide) thermals to yield precipitating convection. CI outcome was quite sensitive to environmental relative humidity; updrafts with increased buoyancy, depth, and intensity thrived in otherwise inhospitable environments by simply increasing the free tropospheric relative humidity. This implicates the entrainment of free-tropospheric air into updrafts as a prominent governor of CI, consistent with previous studies. Sensitivity of CI to the environmental wind is manifested by: i) low-level flow affecting the strength and depth of mesoscale convergence along the terrain, while ii) clouds interacting with vertical wind shear in the free-troposphere encounter updraft-suppressing pressure gradient forces. Among the ensemble of thermals occurring in each simulation, the largest deep updrafts in each simulation were the most sensitive to environmental influences.

Published: July 14, 2022


Nelson C., J.N. Marquis, J.M. Peters, and K. Friedrich. 2022. Environmental controls on simulated deep moist convection initiation occurring during RELAMPAGO-CACTI. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 79, no. 7:1941–1964. PNNL-SA-164690. doi:10.1175/JAS-D-21-0226.1