Does wind shear cause hydrometeor size sorting?

Daniel T. Dawson, Edward R. Mansell, Matthew R. Kumjian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Several recent studies have implicated vertical wind shear in producing steady-state size sorting of a distribution of hydrometeors falling at their terminal velocity, which varies as a function of hydrometeor diameter. In particular, this mechanism has been invoked to explain both the strength and storm-relative orientation of the commonly observed differential reflectivity (ZDR) arc in supercell thunderstorms. However, the actual role of the shear has not been fully clarified. In this study, a simple analytical model is used to show that the fundamental source of size sorting is the storm-relative wind field itself and, in particular, its mean taken over the depth of the sorting layer. Wind shear is only strictly required for producing sustained size sorting in the special but common case of a precipitation source having a motion that lies on the hodograph (such as with the environmental winds at the source level). In supercells, the precipitation source (the rotating updraft) does not necessarily move with the winds at any level. It is shown that this off-hodograph propagation and the associated storm-relative mean wind is responsible for the positive correlation of sizesorting observables (such as ZDR) and storm-relative helicity that has been noted in previous work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-348
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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