Environmental factors in the upscale growth and longevity of MCSs derived from Rapid Update Cycle analyses

Michael C. Coniglio, Jason Y. Hwang, David J. Stensrud

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72 Scopus citations


Composite environments of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) are produced from Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) analyses to explore the differences between rapidly and slowly developing MCSs as well as the differences ahead of long- and short-lived MCSs. The composite analyses capture the synoptic-scale features known to be associated with MCSs and depict the inertial oscillation of the nocturnal low-level jet (LLJ), which remains strong but tends to veer away from decaying MCSs. The composite first storms environment for the rapidly developing MCSs contains a stronger LLJ located closer to the first storms region, much more conditional instability, potential instability, and energy available for downdrafts, smaller 3-10-km vertical wind shear, and smaller geostrophic potential vorticity in the upper troposphere, when compared to the environment for the slowly developing MCSs. The weaker shear above 3 km for the rapidly developing MCSs is consistent with supercell or discrete cell modes being less likely in weaker deep-layer shear and the greater potential for a cold pool to trigger convection when the shear is confined to lower levels. Furthermore, these results suggest that low values of upper-level potential vorticity may signal a rapid transition to an MCS. The composite environment ahead of the genesis of long-lived MCSs contains a broader LLJ, a better-defined frontal zone, stronger low-level frontogenesis, deeper moisture, and stronger wind shear above 2 km, when compared to short-lived MCSs. The larger shear above 2 km for the long-lived MCSs is consistent with the importance of shear elevated above the ground to help organize and maintain convection that feeds on the elevated unstable parcels after dark and is indicative of the enhanced baroclinicity ahead of the MCSs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3514-3539
Number of pages26
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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