Definition of Supercell

In meteorological terms, a supercell epitomizes an enduring, meticulously structured thunderstorm, identifiable by a robust, ceaselessly rotating updraft referred to as a mesocyclone. The severity of a supercell ranks highest among thunderstorm types, holding the potential for extreme weather phenomena including sizable hail, devastating winds, and violent tornadoes.

Formation of Supercells

Specific atmospheric parameters precondition the formation of supercell thunderstorms:
Instability: A distinct temperature gradient between the earth's surface and the upper atmosphere engenders instability, compelling the rise of air and formation of cumulonimbus clouds.

Wind shear: To maintain their unique rotating attribute, supercells require considerable wind shear — a height-dependent alteration in wind speed or direction. The coexistence of speed and directional shear paves the way for the rotating updraft inherent to a supercell.

Types of Supercells

The environmental setting and inherent structure delineate supercells into three main classifications:
Classic supercell: These thunderstorms display a discernible hook echo on radar, signaling the presence of a rotating mesocyclone. Classic supercells are frequently associated with the occurrence of large hail, destructive winds, and tornadoes.

Low-precipitation (LP) supercell: Habitually forming in arid environments, LP supercells yield less rainfall compared to other supercell types. While tornado generation remains within their capacity, these supercells exhibit a greater propensity for creating substantial hail and powerful winds.

High-precipitation (HP) supercell: The heavy rain discharge from HP supercells has the potential to trigger flash flooding. Their high precipitation content typically blurs the distinctiveness of the radar's hook echo, thereby obfuscating tornado identification.

Supercell Hazards

Attributable to their generative capacity, supercell thunderstorms pose significant hazards to life and infrastructure:
Tornadoes: Supercells bear the responsibility for the majority of substantial and violent tornadoes, leading to extensive damage and potential loss of life.

Large hail: The capacity of supercells to produce hailstones with a diameter greater than two inches poses a significant threat to buildings, vehicles, and agricultural produce.

Damaging winds: The generation of straight-line winds or downbursts from supercells, exceeding speeds of 100 mph, can lead to broad-scale destruction.
Updated: May 24, 2023
Published by: Weather Atlas | About Us