An observational analysis on the distance to supercell-boundary interaction in the Great Plains
Several case studies and numerical simulations have confirmed that baroclinic boundaries provide enhanced horizontal and vertical vorticity, wind shear, helicity, and moisture that induce stronger updrafts, higher reflectivity, and stronger low-level rotation in supercells. However, the distance at which a boundary will provide such enhancement is less well-defined. Previous studies have identified distances ranging from 5 km to 200 km, and only focused on tornadogenesis rather than all forms of severe weather. To better aid short-term forecasts, the actual distances at which supercells produce severe weather in proximity to a boundary needs to be assessed.In this study, the distance between a large number of supercells and nearby surface boundaries (including warm fronts, stationary fronts, and outflow boundaries) is measured throughout the lifetime of each storm; the distance at which associated reports of large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes is also collected. Data is gathered from SPC storm reports, WPC surface analyses, ASOS archives, and NCDC radar archives. The Integrated Data Viewer (IDV) from Unidata is used to analyze the distance of the supercell from the boundary every twenty minutes. These distances are then used to interpolate the distance at which severe and significantly severe reports occurred; reports are grouped by severe type (tornado, hail, or wind), then by boundary type (warm front, stationary front, or outflow). Using these distributions, the range from the boundary ativwhich each type of severe weather is produced is identified per boundary type to assist forecasters.Overall, the range at which tornadoes are more likely to be produced is generally closer to the boundary than hail and wind reports for all three boundary types, likely owing to the enhanced helicity present near a boundary. Statistical analyses are used to assess the sensitivity of report distributions to report type, boundary type, distance from the boundary, and boundary strength. The distance of different report types near the same boundary surprisingly did not test as statistically different, except for warm fronts; however, when comparing the distances of the same report type associated with different boundaries, statistically significant differences were found for different boundaries in which different report types are maximally produced. Temperature gradients are not as statistically different between boundaries, but the temperature gradient within the same boundary is statistically significant for the occurrence of tornadoes vs. hail.Additional analyses were conducted to complement the distributions of severe report distances. Previous research has demonstrated that the angle at which supercells interact with boundaries impacts tornado production; in the present dataset, supercells interacting at an angle less than 45° are not only more likely to produce tornadoes, but also more likely to produce significantly severe tornadoes. Additionally, other studies have suggested that the temperature gradient of a boundary is of minimal importance with regards to tornado production. Interestingly, the tornadoes in this study were associated with stronger temperature gradients than for hail or wind production, thusvimplying that a stronger amount of baroclinically-generated horizontal vorticity is required for tornadogenesis, likely due to the enhanced low-level rotation.