Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Publication Date
1 October 2023

A Moist Potential Vorticity Model for Midlatitude Long-Lived Mesoscale Convective Systems over Land



Mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) bring large amounts of rainfall and strong wind gusts to the midlatitude land regions, with significant impacts on local weather and hydrologic cycle. However, weather and climate models face a huge challenge in accurately modeling the MCS life cycle and the associated precipitation, highlighting an urgent need for a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of MCS initiation and propagation. From a theoretical perspective, a suitable model to capture the realistic properties of MCSs and isolate the bare-bones mechanisms for their initiation, intensification, and eastward propagation is still lacking. To simulate midlatitude MCSs over land, we develop a simple moist potential vorticity (PV) model that readily describes the interactions among PV perturbations, air moisture, and soil moisture. Multiple experiments with or without various environmental factors and external forcing are used to investigate their impacts on MCS dynamics and mesoscale circulation vertical structures. The result shows that mechanical forcing can induce lower-level updraft and cooling, providing favorable conditions for MCS initiation. A positive feedback among surface winds, evaporation rate, and air moisture similar to the wind-induced surface heat exchange over tropical ocean is found to support MCS intensification. Both background surface westerlies and vertical westerly wind shear are shown to provide favorable conditions for the eastward propagation of MCSs. Last, our result highlights the crucial role of stratiform heating in shaping mesoscale circulation response. The model should serve as a useful tool for understanding the fundamental mechanisms of MCS dynamics.

Yang, Qiu, L. Ruby Leung, Zhe Feng, and Xingchao Chen. 2023. “A Moist Potential Vorticity Model For Midlatitude Long-Lived Mesoscale Convective Systems Over Land”. Journal Of The Atmospheric Sciences 80 (10). American Meteorological Society: 2399-2418. doi:10.1175/jas-d-22-0244.1.
Funding Program Area(s)