Abstract In this study, we analyze various sources of CAPE in the environment and their contributions to its time tendency that will complement forecast models and operational analyses that are relatively temporally (~1 h) coarse. As a case study, the relative roles of direct insolation and near-surface moisture advection in the recovery CAPE on 31 March 2016 in northern Alabama are examined using VORTEX-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) observations and numerical simulations. In between rounds of non-tornadic morning storms and tornadic evening storms, CAPE over the VORTEX-SE domain increased from near zero to at least 500 J kg−1. A timeline of the day’s events is provided with a focus on the evolution of the lower levels of the atmosphere. We focus on its responses to solar insolation and moisture advection, which we hypothesize as the main mechanisms behind the recovery of CAPE. Data from the University of Massachusetts S-Band frequency-modulated, continuous-wave (FMCW) radar and NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) Collaborative Lower Atmospheric Mobile Profiling System (CLAMPS), and high-resolution EnKF analyses from the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) are used to characterize the boundary layer evolution in the pre-tornadic storm environment. It is found that insolation-driven surface diabatic heating was the primary driver of rapid CAPE recovery on this day. The methodology developed in this case can be applied in other scenarios to diagnose the primary drivers of CAPE development.