Journal article Open Access

Diagnosed Three-Dimensional Axisymmetric Structure of the Mulhall Tornado on 3 May 1999

Lee, Wen-Chau; Wurman, Joshua

On 3 May 1999, an unusually large tornado that caused F4-level damage and killed several people was intercepted by the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radar near Mulhall, Oklahoma, from a range of 4 to 9 km, resulting in high-resolution volumetric data every 55 s up to 1.5-km altitude over a period of 14 min. For the first time, the evolution and three-dimensional structure of a tornado were deduced using the ground-based velocity track display (GBVTD) technique. After the circulation center was determined, the tangential wind and radial wind were derived from the GBVTD technique at each radius and height. In addition, the axisymmetric vertical velocity, angular momentum, vorticity, and perturbation pressure were deduced from the tangential and radial wind fields. This study focuses on the axisymmetric aspects of this tornado.The primary circulation of the Mulhall tornado consisted of an 84 ms-1 peak axisymmetric tangential wind with the radius of maximum wind (RMW) ranging from 500 to 1000 m. The secondary circulation exhibited a two-cell structure characterized by a central downdraft surrounded by an annular updraft near the RMW. The calculated maximum pressure deficit from a 3-km radius to the tornado center at 50-m altitude was -80 hPa. The maximum vorticity during the first 8 min of observation was located inside the RMW away from the tornado center. This vorticity profile satisfied the necessary condition of barotropic instability. As the tornado weakened afterward, the vorticity monotonically increased toward the center. The computed swirl ratios were between 2 and 6, consistent with the observed multiple vortex radar signatures and the vorticity pattern. Swirl ratios were generally smaller during the weakening phase.
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