Convection Initiation Along the Rocky Mountain Front Range

Brian Christopher Matilla, Katja Friedrich


Identifying the initiation and subsequent motion of thunderstorms along the Colorado Rocky Mountain Front Range continues to be a focal point in increasing forecast accuracy. Sparse knowledge of the relationship between convection initiation and orographic precipitation with low synoptic scale forcing leads to a low degree of forecast confidence due to the strong dependency of surface atmospheric conditions. An examination of the various properties of convection initiation ties those ideas to cases where thunderstorms are generated by weak or strong synoptic forcing. A qualitative and quantitative representation of convective storm initiation patterns is made based on radar reflectivity observed between May and August between Denver and Fort Collins in Colorado. Locations of convection initiation are linked to topography as well as atmospheric conditions such as upper-level wind flow, surface winds, and moisture content to determine thunderstorm characteristics and potential behavior given the initial conditions. Results show that convection develops along the Front Range and then migrates to the east in times of both weak and strong synoptic forcing. Depending on the wind direction, convection initiates on the north side of the Cheyenne Ridge and Palmer Divide for northerly flow and on the east side of the Rocky Mountains for easterly flow.


Convection Initiation; Synoptic Forcing; Rocky Mountain Front Range

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