Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



© 2017 American Meteorological Society.

DOI: 10.1175/JAS-D-16-0227.1


A physical mechanism based on density current dynamics is proposed to explain the generation of low-level vertical vorticity in supercells. This mechanism may serve as one explanation for the associative relationship between environmental low-level vertical shear and the occurrence of significant tornadoes. The mechanism proposed herein represents an indirect connection to the generation of strong surface-based rotation: the barotropic horizontal vorticity associated with the vertical shear acts to amplify existing rotation but does not directly contribute to surface rotation. The proposed mechanism couples the likelihood of a tornado to the vertical shear through the pattern of vertical motion induced through interaction of a deformed gust front and the environmental vertical shear. Results from the experiments conducted to test the veracity of the proposed mechanism illustrate that inferred patterns of tilting and vortex line orientation are consistent with the generation of positive vertical vorticity near the axis of the existing mesocyclone and negative vertical vorticity along the rear-flank gust front. Moreover, inferred tilting is found to scale with the magnitude of the environmental vertical shear, consistent with the climatologies that motivate this work. Experiments also reveal that the proposed mechanism is capable of relating boundary deformation, mesocyclone strength, and hodograph shape to the ultimate likelihood of tornadogenesis.