Low-level mesovortices within squall lines and bow echoes. Part I: Overview and dependence on environmental shear

Morris L. Weisman, Robert J. Trapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This two-part study proposes fundamental explanations of the genesis, structure, and implications of low-level meso-γ-scale vortices within quasi-linear convective systems (QLCSs) such as squall lines and bow echoes. Such "mesovortices" are observed frequently, at times in association with tornadoes. Idealized simulations are used herein to study the structure and evolution of meso-γ-scale surface vorticles within QLCSs and their dependence on the environmental vertical wind shear. Within such simulations, significant cyclonic surface vortices are readily produced when the unidirectional shear magnitude is 20 m s-1 or greater over a 0-2.5- or 0-5-km-AGL layer. As similarly found in observations of QLCSs, these surface vortices form primarily north of the apex of the individual embedded bowing segments as well as north of the apex of the larger-scale bow-shaped system. They generally develop first near the surface but can build upward to 6-8 km AGL. Vortex longevity can be several hours, far longer than individual convective cells within the QLCS: during this time, vortex merger and upscale growth is common. It is also noted that such mesoscale vortices may be responsible for the production of extensive areas of extreme "straight line" wind damage, as has also been observed with some QLCSs. Surface vortices are also produced for weaker shears but remain shallow, weak, and short-lived. Although similar in size and strength to mesocyclones associated with supercell storms, and also sometimes producing similar hooklike structures in the rain field, it is also shown that the present vortices are quite distinct, structurally and dynamically. Most critically, such vortices are not associated with long-lived, rotating updrafts at midlevels and the associated strong, dynamically forced vertical accelerations, as occur within supercell mesocyclones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2779-2803
Number of pages25
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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