Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Denver area landspout setup on 8-24-08
With the Democrats tooling up for their convention this past weekend in Denver, weather tried to steal the show for a bit with a long-lived landpout tornado (see picture sequence courtesy of KUSA above) just southeast of the Denver Metro area.
The setting was fairly typical for landspout tornadoes (a form of non-mesocyclone or non-supercell tornado) near Denver, with a boundary NE-SW across the metro area (see surface map above). Storms formed along this boundary just south of Denver between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm MDT. Then another sharper southeastward-moving boundary moved off the foothills to the west (see radar image above), and collided with the storms over the southern metro area. These colliding boundaries and the storm updrafts stretching the vorticity ("spin") along them produced the long-lived landspout tornado over northeast Elbert County between 5:30 PM and 6:00 pm MDT, as well as a couple other briefer landspouts elsewhere along the line.
A sharp windshift boundary (or colliding boundaries in this case) is the most important component in landspout cases, providing the vertical "spin" to be stretched into a tornado. But the environment contributes as well, with strong surface heating and rapid temperature change (steep lapse rates) in the lowest 2 km or so, helping to accelerate air parcels upward in low-levels to augment stretching by storm updrafts along the boundary or boundaries (see Davies and Caruso 2005 at http://www.nwas.org/ej/cardav/). Such environments are similar to those that encourage dust devils on hot days.
Above, a RUC analysis profile in the southeast Denver metro area shows these very steep low-level lapse rates, and also the deep well-mixed moisture layer, even though cloud bases were high (MLLCL around 2500 m AGL). I used to think that some low-level CAPE (e.g., CAPE below 3 km AGL) was needed in these events, but I've seen several Colorado events in recent years where this just isn't the case. It seems that a deep well-mixed moist layer (to reduce parcel entrainment and drying) with little if any CIN (to let parcels rise rapidly) is what is really needed, along with the steep low-level lapse rates, and of course, the boundary or boundaries. These ingredients thrown together in the same area increase the chance of a mesoscale "accident" that might result in a landspout tornado. With the local topography around the Denver area that can help set up boundaries on days with steep lapse rates, such events are relatively common there.
- Jon Davies 8-26-08