Impact of variations in upper-level shear on simulated supercells

Robert A Warren, Harald Richter, Hamish A Ramsay, Steven T Siems, Michael J Manton

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It has previously been suggested, based on limited observations, that vertical wind shear in the upper troposphere is a key control on supercell morphology, with the low-precipitation, high-precipitation, and classic archetypes favored under strong, weak, and moderate shear, respectively. The idea is that, with increasing upper-level shear (ULS), hydrometeors are transported farther from the updraft by stronger storm-relative anvil-level winds, limiting their growth and thereby reducing precipitation intensity. The present study represents the first attempt to test this hypothesis, using idealized simulations of supercells performed across a range of 6-12-km shear profiles. Contrary to expectations, there is a significant increase in surface precipitation and an associated strengthening of outflow winds as ULS magnitude is increased from 0 to 20 m s-1. These changes result from an increase in storm motion, which drives stronger low-level inflow, a wider updraft, and enhanced condensation. A further increase in ULS magnitude to 30 m s-1 promotes a slight reduction in storm intensity associated with surging rear-flank outflow. However, this transition in behavior is found to be sensitive to other factors that influence cold-pool strength, such as mixed-layer depth and model microphysics. Variations in the vertical distribution and direction of ULS are also considered, but are found to have a much smaller impact on storm intensity than variations in ULS magnitude. Suggestions for the disparity between the current results and the aforementioned observations are offered and the need for further research on supercell morphology-in particular, simulations in drier environments-is emphasized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2659-2681
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Atmosphere
  • Cloud resolving models
  • Deep convection
  • Severe storms
  • Storm environments
  • Supercells

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