Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Severe thunderstorms tomorrow? It's possible.

After a seemingly endless barrage of weather systems, yet another is already beginning to show its stripes. Take a look at the satellite picture below. This is a water vapor image.Notice the green area covering the western portions of Oregon and Washington. That's associated with a plume of sub-tropical moisture which should deliver rain (and high mountain snow) to most of the Inland Northwest between tonight and Thursday morning.  Also notice the dark area over the eastern Pacific and the kink in the blue lines located along 130w. This is associated with a fairly vigorous shortwave trough. This trough will become a crucial player for our weather across the Inland Northwest by tomorrow afternoon.

10pm PDT Water Vapor image and 500 mb heights

So as mentioned before we expect widespread rains (and mountain snow) tonight into early Thursday. This will likely prime the atmosphere full of moisture and could set the stage for some active weather tomorrow afternoon across portions of the Inland Northwest. Lets look at some model data for details. First we will start with a course resolution model, the 90km GFS. Here's a look at what that models is showing as far as the shortwave trough moving through the region. The first image shows the previously displayed 500 mb heights combined with what we term Q-Vector convergence. This is a fancy term that essentially shows upper level lifting. In this case the purple shading shows where the lifting in the upper levels is strongest. The top image shows the trough extending from the central Washington Cascades to the SE corner of Washington around 11 am with the best upper level lifting focused over most of the region. The second image shows the same thing only at 5 pm. Notice by this time the trough is focused along a line from Sandpoint to Missoula, however the strongest lifting by that time has shifted into eastern Montana and SE British Columbia. That's all well and good but what does that translate to weatherwise?

11am PDT Thursday 500 mb heights and Q-vector convergence

5pm PDT Thursday 500 mb heights and Q-vector convergence

Lets take a look at one more 90km GFS image before moving on. This time we will look at CAPE values. CAPE or Convective Available Potential Energy is simply the amount of potential energy that can be released should we be able to lift an air parcel. You can read more about it here if you desire. Suffice it to say, the higher the CAPE values there more energy or explosiveness there is in the atmosphere. So what is explosiveness tomorrow afternoon? Its actually fairly impressive at least for this region and this time of year. Notice the axis of the highest CAPE values extend from the NE corner of Washington southeast toward the Clearwater Mountains southeast of Lewiston. Keep in mind this area of instability coincides with the passage of the shortwave trough and upper level lifting...a good thing for producing thunderstorms.

CAPE forecast for 5pm Thursday
The parameters shown above are what we meteorologist have looked at for many years, however we are now also getting more refined and specific data from finer resolution models and simulated radar data. So what is this newer model data showing? Its actually quite interesting. Here a look at simulated radar for 5 pm Thursday that was run 42 hours previously (at 11 pm Tue). Notice over NE Washington and the SE corner of Washington there are a pair of bright orange and yellow cells. This model was suggesting that there could be thunderstorms over this area. We see this a lot from the finer resolution models but often can't put a lot of faith in them unless there is some consistency.
Simulated 42hr Composite reflectivity (radar) from 11pm Tue Model run
 So has there been consistency? Lets see the next model run. This one was run 6 hours later and sure enough there are the two yellow and orange areas over NE Washington and a slightly larger one over SE Washington.
Simulated 36hr Composite reflectivity (radar) from 5am Wed  Model run
So that gives us some confidence. Now how about the latest model run? If you look at the image below you can see that the information isn't  quite as convincing as the previous two but it still showed two yellow and orange areas in the same general vicinity. Interesting. So is this enough information to convince us that we will see severe thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon. Probably not, but it does at least hint at a possibility of it. Our confidence is much higher that we will see some thunderstorms...a few of which will produce hail and possible some gusty winds. If the latest models were showing what we see depicted from northern Louisiana toward northern Illinois our confidence would be much higher!
Simulated 24hr Composite reflectivity (radar) from 5pm Wed  Model run

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