Importance of horizontally inhomogeneous environmental initial conditions to ensemble storm-scale radar data assimilation and very short-range forecasts

David J. Stensrud, Jidong Gao

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59 Scopus citations


The assimilation of operational Doppler radar observations into convection-resolving numerical weather prediction models for very short-range forecasting represents a significant scientific and technological challenge. Numerical experiments over the past few years indicate that convective-scale forecasts are sensitive to the details of the data assimilation methodology, the quality of the radar data, the parameterized microphysics, and the storm environment. In this study, the importance of horizontal environmental variability to very short-range (0-1 h) convective-scale ensemble forecasts initialized using Doppler radar observations is investigated for the 4-5 May 2007 Greensburg, Kansas, tornadic thunderstorm event. Radar observations of reflectivity and radial velocity from the operational Doppler radar network at 0230 UTC 5 May 2007, during the time of the first large tornado, are assimilated into each ensemble member using a three-dimensional variational data assimilation system (3DVAR) developed at the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS). Very short-range forecasts are made using the nonhydrostatic Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) model from each ensemble member and the results are compared with the observations. Explicit three-dimensional environmental variability information is provided to the convective-scale ensemble using analyses from a 30-km mesoscale ensemble data assimilation system. Comparisons between convective-scale ensembles with initial conditions produced by 3DVAR using 1) background fields that are horizontally homogeneous but vertically inhomogeneous (i.e., have different vertical environmental profiles) and 2) background fields that are horizontally and vertically inhomogeneous are undertaken. Results show that the ensemble with horizontally and vertically inhomogeneous background fields provides improved predictions of thunderstorm structure, mesocyclone track, and low-level circulation track than the ensemble with horizontally homogeneous background fields. This suggests that knowledge of horizontal environmental variability is important to successful convective-scale ensemble predictions and needs to be included in real-data experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1250-1272
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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