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A Case Study of Severe Winter Convection In The Midwest


Between 2100 UTC 11 February 2003 and 0200 UTC 12 February 2003, a line of thunderstorms passed swiftly through parts of eastern Iowa and into north-central Illinois. Although this storm somewhat resembled a warm season, line-type mesoscale convective system, it was unique in that the thunderstorm winds exceeded the severe criterion (50 kt; 25.7 m s(-1)) during a snowburst. While the parent snowband deposited only 4 cm of snow, it did so in a short period and created a treacherous driving situation because of the ensuing near-whiteout conditions caused by strong winds that reached the National Weather Service severe criteria, as the line moved across central Illinois. Such storms in the cold season rarely occur and are largely undocumented; the present work seeks to fill this void in the existing literature. While this system superficially resembled a more traditional warm season squall line, deeper inspection revealed a precipitation band that failed to conform to that paradigm. Radar analysis failed to resolve any of the necessary warm season signatures, as maximum reflectivities of only 40-45 dBZ reached no higher than 3.7 km above ground level. The result was low-topped convection in a highly sheared environment. Moreover, winds in excess of 50 kt (25.7 m s(-1)) occurred earlier in the day without thunderstorm activity, upstream of the eventual severe thundersnow location. Perhaps of greatest importance is the fact that the winds in excess of the severe criterion were more the result of boundary layer mixing, and largely coincident with the parent convective line. This event was a case of forced convection, dynamically linked to its parent cold front via persistent frontogenesis and the convective instability associated with it; winds sufficient for a severe thunderstorm warning, while influenced by convection, resulted from high momentum mixing downward through a dry-adiabatic layer.

Article / Publication Data
Available Metadata
Fiscal Year
Publication Name
Weather and Forecasting
Published On
February 01, 2009
Publisher Name
Amer Meteorological Soc
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