Characterizing severe weather potential in synoptically weakly forced thunderstorm environments

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Abstract. Weakly forced thunderstorms (WFTs), short-lived convection forming in synoptically quiescent regimes, are a contemporary forecasting challenge. The convective environments that support severe WFTs are often similar to those that yield only non-severe WFTs and, additionally, only a small proportion of individual WFTs will ultimately produce severe weather. The purpose of this study is to better characterize the relative severe weather potential in these settings as a function of the convective environment. Thirty-one near-storm convective parameters for > 200 000 WFTs in the Southeastern United States are calculated from a high-resolution numerical forecasting model, the Rapid Refresh (RAP). For each parameter, the relative odds of WFT days with at least one severe weather event is assessed along a moving threshold. Parameters (and the values of them) that reliably separate severe-weather-supporting from non-severe WFT days are highlighted. Only two convective parameters, vertical totals (VTs) and total totals (TTs), appreciably differentiate severe-wind-supporting and severe-hail-supporting days from non-severe WFT days. When VTs exceeded values between 24.6 and 25.1 ∘C or TTs between 46.5 and 47.3 ∘C, odds of severe-wind days were roughly 5× greater. Meanwhile, odds of severe-hail days became roughly 10× greater when VTs exceeded 24.4–26.0 ∘C or TTs exceeded 46.3–49.2 ∘C. The stronger performance of VT and TT is partly attributed to the more accurate representation of these parameters in the numerical model. Under-reporting of severe weather and model error are posited to exacerbate the forecasting challenge by obscuring the subtle convective environmental differences enhancing storm severity.

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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences

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