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Ensemble Kalman Filter Assimilation of Radar Observations of the 8 May 2003 Oklahoma City Supercell: Influences of Reflectivity Observations on Storm-Scale Analyses


Ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) techniques have been proposed for obtaining atmospheric state estimates on the scale of individual convective storms from radar and other observations, but tests of these methods with observations of real convective storms are still very limited. In the current study, radar observations of the 8 May 2003 Oklahoma City tornadic supercell thunderstorm were assimilated into the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) Collaborative Model for Multiscale Atmospheric Simulation (NCOMMAS) with an EnKF method. The cloud model employed 1-km horizontal grid spacing, a single-moment bulk precipitation-microphysics scheme, and a base state initialized with sounding data. A 50-member ensemble was produced by randomly perturbing base-state wind profiles and by regularly adding random local perturbations to the horizontal wind, temperature, and water vapor fields in and near observed precipitation.

In a reference experiment, only Doppler-velocity observations were assimilated into the NCOMMAS ensemble. Then, radar-reflectivity observations were assimilated together with Doppler-velocity observations in subsequent experiments. Influences that reflectivity observations have on storm-scale analyses were revealed through parameter-space experiments by varying observation availability, observation errors, ensemble spread, and choices for what model variables were updated when a reflectivity observation was assimilated. All experiments produced realistic storm-scale analyses that compared favorably with independent radar observations. Convective storms in the NCOMMAS ensemble developed more quickly when reflectivity observations and velocity observations were both assimilated rather than only velocity, presumably because the EnKF utilized covariances between reflectivity and unobserved model fields such as cloud water and vertical velocity in efficiently developing realistic storm features.

Recurring spatial patterns in the differences between predicted and observed reflectivity were noted particularly at low levels, downshear of the supercell’s updraft, in the anvil of moderate-to-light precipitation, where reflectivity in the model was typically lower than observed. Bias errors in the predicted rain mixing ratios and/or the size distributions that the bulk scheme associates with these mixing ratios are likely responsible for this reflectivity underprediction. When a reflectivity observation is assimilated, bias errors in the model fields associated with reflectivity (rain, snow, and hail–graupel) can be projected into other model variables through the ensemble covariances. In the current study, temperature analyses in the downshear anvil at low levels, where reflectivity was underpredicted, were very sensitive both to details of the assimilation algorithm and to ensemble spread in temperature. This strong sensitivity suggests low confidence in analyses of low-level cold pools obtained through reflectivity-data assimilation.

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