Comparing variable updraft melting layer heights to convective speeds using polarimetric radar data

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Harris, Ronald A.
The melting layer (ML) appears on vertical radar cross sections as a bright band of higher reflectivity values. Single polarization radars only detect this feature in stratiform precipitation events, whereas dual polarization radars offer the advantage of detecting the ML in both stratiform and convective precipitation events. The ML is known to be lifted higher locally within a convective updraft, so the goal of the present study was to determine if there is a correlation between the vertical displacement of the ML in an updraft (above the ambient ML) and the speed of the storm's reported wind gusts. Fourteen storms were investigated. Wind reports from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) website were used and radar data were obtained from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) website for two dual polarization radar sites: Vance Air Force Base (KVNX) in Enid, OK, and Wichita, KS (KICT). Each storm was studied in detail using a combination of plan views of the cross correlation coefficient (pHV, which drops to anomalously low values within the ML) and vertical cross sections of reflectivity. Ultimately, no correlation was found between the height of the updraft ML and the speed of the convective wind gusts. This suggests that the height to which a parcel is lifted by an updraft does not affect the speed at which it descends in the ensuing downdraft. This is likely due to the fact that the mechanisms determining updraft strength are almost entirely separate from those that determine downdraft strength. For example, instability and lift govern updraft strength, whereas downdraft strength is predominantly governed by evaporational cooling and negative buoyancy.