Low-level convergence and its role in convective intensity and frequency over the Houston lightning and rainfall anomaly



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Texas A&M University


An increase in the amount of lightning and rainfall over the Houston area, compared to the surrounding rural areas, has been well documented in previous studies. The placement of a Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radar (SMART-R) in the Houston area during the summer season of 2005 presented a unique opportunity to investigate the role of boundary-layer convergence in modulating convective frequency and intensity and, thereby, likely causing the rainfall and lightning anomalies. The role of the urban heat island (UHI) and the sea-breeze, as a source of low-level convergence leading to enhanced convection over Houston, was examined. Hourly average dual-Doppler wind and convergence maps were created on 1 X 1 km grids for an eleven-week period. By using these images along with average lightning, rainfall, and reflectivity for a large Houston-centered domain, it was possible to discern a correlation between low-level convergence and convection. Also, past findings of enhancement in lightning and rainfall over Houston and downwind of Houston were validated. High convergence levels for the Houston area in the mid-morning were followed closely by a peak in convection in the early afternoon. The enhancement of rainfall and lightning over and downwind of downtown was found to be primarily from a large increase in frequency of deep convective events when compared to the surrounding domain. Also, it was found that UHI, rather than sea-breeze, was likely the primary causative mechanism in the development of convection over the Houston area because of the lack of deep convection in areas equally affected by the sea-breeze and the timing of the convection compared to time of peak sea-breeze. An area of weaker enhancement south of Houston, not discussed in previous studies, was found to be present, possibly from the interactions between the bay-breeze off of the Galveston Bay and the seabreeze.