Tilting of horizontal shear vorticity and the development of updraft rotation in supercell thunderstorms

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The question of how rotation arises in sheared updrafts is analyzed using the shear and curvature vorticity framework. Local rotation exists where the shear and curvature vorticity have a similar magnitude and the same sign, such that parcels are in near-solid-body rotation. It is shown that the tilting terms of the vertical vorticity equation cannot explain the development of local rotation in the canonical cases where the horizontal vorticity is either purely streamwise or purely crosswise. Rather, vertical shear vorticity develops if crosswise vorticity is tilted, and vertical curvature vorticity develops if streamwise vorticity is tilted. To analyze how local rotation develops, two simulations of updrafts in an environment with crosswise and mostly streamwise vorticity, respectively, are discussed. A trajectory analysis is performed and shear and curvature vorticity budgets are analyzed. It is found that much of the horizontal vorticity near the updraft becomes streamwise, which results from pressure gradient accelerations in the vicinity of the updraft. Consequently, in the analyzed scenarios, the tilting mechanism results primarily in vertical curvature vorticity. Local rotation is achieved via an interchange process that facilitates a partial conversion of vertical curvature vorticity to vertical shear vorticity. Updraft rotation in supercells thus does not result from tilting of horizontal vorticity alone, but partial conversion of curvature to shear vorticity is also required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2997-3020
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Mesocyclones
  • Numerical analysis/modeling
  • Supercells
  • Vorticity
  • Wind shear


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