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Capping Inversions
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TOPIC: Capping Inversions
#48884
James1
EF-3
Posts: 920
graphgraph
Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 65
Why not throw another thread onto the knowledge pile? This thread is dedicated to understanding what is known as a capping inversion or a cap. Caps are important to severe weather for a number of different reasons which we'll cover across the course of a few days.

To start off lets take a look at what a cap is. A cap is generally defined as a layer of warm, dry, stable air over an area that squelches thunderstorms. Thunderstorms cannot get through this layer of stable air without the right amount of ingredients (strong vertical lift combined with lots of daytime heating) come together to erode the cap away and allow for thunderstorms to explode. A cap cannot usually "be seen" but there are indicators of the presence of a cap. The best way to "see" a cap is by taking a look at Skew-T charts. Generally on a Skew-T it will look like this:


But a capping inversion will not always show up like that. You have to carefully look at Skew-T charts. This next diagram is coming from a write up by Tim Marshall and the diagram itself was adapted from Snow, 1984, Scientific American article on "The Tornado":


Although it may seem that the cap harbors awful chase prospects this is not always the case. Weak caps that easily break early in the day usually allow weaker crapvection to form and clutter up the area you wanted to see supercells in. Usually squall lines/clusters with showers result from weak capping. You'll want a cap with enough strength to hold through the day to allow for the buildup of instability along with daytime heating so when the cap finally does break, thunderstorms are explosive. On the same token, a cap that is too strong will kill your chances of a good chase no matter how many other factors come together.

DISCLAIMER: Do not expect explosive convection even when you have high instability with a strong cap. Instability will not break the cap alone

Works Cited:
www.stormtrack.org/library/forecast/cap.htm -Write up on the capping inversion by Tim Marshall.
amsglossary.allenpress.com/glossary/sear...d=capping-inversion1 -American Meteorological Society's definition of a cap.


More will be on the way in the upcoming days.
 
Last Edit: 2010/12/23 05:47 By James1.
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#48890
MN_MesoMandy
EF-2
Posts: 203
graphgraph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 11
Thank you for bringing up the topic, James! If there ever was something I haven't been able to comprehend, it's a capping inversion. It seems that there are several days during the summer here in Northern Minnesota that are absolutely primed for severe weather activity. However, when that "magic hour" comes along, storms happen elsewhere in the region (say, within 40 miles in any direction) and nothing ever erupts here. As a result, I have seen many blue-sky busts and only a handful of decent severe weather days. I have never quite figured out why that was...
 
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#49206
sprite
EF-0
Posts: 12
graphgraph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 0
Some good advice there. Just to add to this...

A capping inversion can be seen on a skew-T where the temperature line crosses the theoretical parcel line (the grey CAPE line on the RHS) Dry air in the atmosphere can usually enhance storm activity, depending on what type of storm you are after, but essentially daytime heating or moisture will break the cap in the latter parts of the day when heating is at its maximum.

But if the cap is too strong then what you get is lower surface cape and convection - low capped CB's. Naturally wind shear is a major factor in storm character and this can remove the cap in some respects by transporting more favorable atmospherics to certain regions given fronts and troughs.

Caps can be weakened by changes in DP and Temp alone, but as soundings are only done hourly or three hourly or even twice a day determining the conditions for a particular region involves nowcasting to track any atmosperhics that could assist in storms forming.

A storm may not form in your area but explode in another, so for every 20miles of land there is a different set of rules for convective properties for example.

Capping inversions can be found mainly in the lower regions of the sounding plot, and as mentioned they are typically dry air that prevents the parcel from rising further up.
 
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#49213
SkyEyeJo
Moderator
Posts: 5029
graph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 132
James1 wrote:
This thread is dedicated to understanding what is known as a capping inversion or a cap. Caps are important to severe weather for a number of different reasons which we'll cover across the course of a few days.

To start off lets take a look at what a cap is. A cap is generally defined as a layer of warm, dry, stable air over an area that squelches thunderstorms. Thunderstorms cannot get through this layer of stable air without the right amount of ingredients (strong vertical lift combined with lots of daytime heating) come together to erode the cap away and allow for thunderstorms to explode. A cap cannot usually "be seen" but there are indicators of the presence of a cap. The best way to "see" a cap is by taking a look at Skew-T charts. Generally on a Skew-T it will look like this:


But a capping inversion will not always show up like that. You have to carefully look at Skew-T charts. This next diagram is coming from a write up by Tim Marshall and the diagram itself was adapted from Snow, 1984, Scientific American article on "The Tornado":


Although it may seem that the cap harbors awful chase prospects this is not always the case. Weak caps that easily break early in the day usually allow weaker crapvection to form and clutter up the area you wanted to see supercells in. Usually squall lines/clusters with showers result from weak capping. You'll want a cap with enough strength to hold through the day to allow for the buildup of instability along with daytime heating so when the cap finally does break, thunderstorms are explosive. On the same token, a cap that is too strong will kill your chances of a good chase no matter how many other factors come together.

DISCLAIMER: Do not expect explosive convection even when you have high instability with a strong cap. Instability will not break the cap alone

Works Cited:
www.stormtrack.org/library/forecast/cap.htm -Write up on the capping inversion by Tim Marshall.
amsglossary.allenpress.com/glossary/sear...d=capping-inversion1 -American Meteorological Society's definition of a cap.


More will be on the way in the upcoming days.


Edit:

To avoid redundancy. One more time, from the top!
 
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#49220
SkyEyeJo
Moderator
Posts: 5029
graph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 132
MN_MesoMandy wrote:
Thank you for bringing up the topic, James! If there ever was something I haven't been able to comprehend, it's a capping inversion. It seems that there are several days during the summer here in Northern Minnesota that are absolutely primed for severe weather activity. However, when that "magic hour" comes along, storms happen elsewhere in the region (say, within 40 miles in any direction) and nothing ever erupts here. As a result, I have seen many blue-sky busts and only a handful of decent severe weather days. I have never quite figured out why that was...

Amanda, as you know, the cap is also referred to as a 'lid'. That term aids in visualizing what is happening when there's a cap in play over moist, unstable air.
Imagine keeping a lid on a pan of boiling water. The longer the lid stays on, the harder the water boils, and the less time involved in getting the water to the boiling point (an increase in the amount of potential instability).
If you lift the lid too soon, you don't get to the boiling point as easily or as quickly (faster loss of available instability).
The longer the cap stays on, the more unstable the air beneath.
Again: the harder the boil (available instability) beneath the lid (cap), you tend to have a 'boil-over' which can be similar to what happens when a cap breaks above an area of large instability.
Caps have boundaries; strong caps can hold the energy in beneath ('boiling over' analogy again), while storms forming along the capped area, along it's boundary, can become severe (water escaping from around the lid of a pan).
Then again, if that cap it too strong (lid is tight and sealed as on a pressure cooker), no storms for you.
 
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#49221
James1
EF-3
Posts: 920
graphgraph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 65
sprite wrote:
Some good advice there. Just to add to this...

A capping inversion can be seen on a skew-T where the temperature line crosses the theoretical parcel line (the grey CAPE line on the RHS) Dry air in the atmosphere can usually enhance storm activity, depending on what type of storm you are after, but essentially daytime heating or moisture will break the cap in the latter parts of the day when heating is at its maximum.

But if the cap is too strong then what you get is lower surface cape and convection - low capped CB's. Naturally wind shear is a major factor in storm character and this can remove the cap in some respects by transporting more favorable atmospherics to certain regions given fronts and troughs.

Caps can be weakened by changes in DP and Temp alone, but as soundings are only done hourly or three hourly or even twice a day determining the conditions for a particular region involves nowcasting to track any atmosperhics that could assist in storms forming.

A storm may not form in your area but explode in another, so for every 20miles of land there is a different set of rules for convective properties for example.

Capping inversions can be found mainly in the lower regions of the sounding plot, and as mentioned they are typically dry air that prevents the parcel from rising further up.


Very good points there Mike. The other thing to note that is that upper-air data does not account for quite a lot of the atmosphere even in the most heavily sampled areas. Differences in terrain, especially in areas where upslope flow setups(where there is enhanced lift from geographical features such as the Palmer Divide or Raton Basin) are common, can alter how easily the cap is broken. The best example is Western Kansas/Eastern Colorado. There is a totally different set of dynamics in play than in say, central Oklahoma.

To tack onto what Mike said about dewpoints, the dewpoints needed to get the job done instability-wise and provide the environment for explosive convection varies in different places in the U.S. The Northern Plains do not require dewpoints climbing through the 60's like the Southern Plains do and so forth. Always keep an eye out
 
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#49224
sprite
EF-0
Posts: 12
graphgraph
Re:Capping Inversions 3 Years, 3 Months ago Karma: 0
So when you calculate CIN (the same thing) it is done in the lowest 50-100mb on the sounding because this is the layer which represents the averaged temp and moisture avallable for convective storms. Replotting soundings here where I live I can replot in any Mb range I like to see changes in CAPE or whatever, if there is a CAP, this can be removed on the interactive sounding chart by plotting in different temps and Dp's likely or current, but, if there is no vertical forcing to lift the parcel beyond the inversion then no amount of moisture or temperature will deplete it.

You can still obtain strong lapse rates but bouyancy will only be to the point where the EL is reached - and in the case of an inversion they would be shallow yet still display Pileus during ascention.

Things to remember are that vertical forcing must be obtained to break the CAP through lifting of the parcel. Heavy cloud and precip content will inhibit vertical lifting of a parcel thus depleting bouyancy. So when vertical shear is weak - aka wind shear - then bouyancy is the dominant thing for updrafts, and if wind shear is strong then it interacts with updrafts and downdrafts and can either inhibit or enhance vertical acceleration.
 
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