, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 47-82

An Observational Study of Wind Profiles in the Baroclinic Convective Mixed Layer

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A comprehensive planetary boundary-layer (PBL) and synoptic data set is used to isolate the mechanisms that determine the vertical shear of the horizontal wind in the convective mixed layer. To do this, we compare a fair-weather convective PBL with no vertical shear through the mixed layer (10 March 1992), with a day with substantial vertical shear in the north-south wind component (27 February). The approach involves evaluating the terms of the budget equations for the two components of the vertical shear of the horizontal wind; namely: the time-rate-of-change or time-tendency term, differential advection, the Coriolis terms (a thermal wind term and a shear term), and the second derivative of the vertical transport of horizontal momentum with respect to height (turbulent-transport term). The data, gathered during the 1992 STorm-scale Operational and Research Meteorology (STORM) Fronts Experiments Systems Test (FEST) field experiment, are from gust-probe aircraft horizontal legs and soundings, 915-MHz wind profilers, a 5-cm Doppler radar, radiosondes, and surface Portable Automated Mesonet (PAM) stations in a roughly 50 × 50 km boundary-layer array in north-eastern Kansas, nested in a mesoscale-to-synoptic array of radiosondes and surface data.

We present evidence that the shear on 27 February is related to the rapid growth of the convective boundary layer. Computing the shear budget over a fixed depth (the final depth of the mixed layer), we find that the time-tendency term dominates, reflecting entrainment of high-shear air from above the boundary layer. We suggest that shear within the mixed layer occurs when the time-tendency term is sufficiently large that the shear-reduction terms – namely the turbulent-transport term and differential advection terms – cannot compensate. In contrast, the tendency term is small for the slowly-growing PBL of 10 March, resulting in a balance between the Coriolis terms and the turbulent-transport term. Thus, the thermal wind appears to influence mixed-layer shear only indirectly, through its role in determining the entrained shear.