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Keywords:

  • severe convective storms;
  • cloud microphysics;
  • satellite retrievals

[1] A new conceptual model that facilitates the inference of the vigor of severe convective storms, producing tornadoes and large hail, by using satellite-retrieved vertical profiles of cloud top temperature (T)–particle effective radius (re) relations is presented and tested. The driving force of these severe weather phenomena is the high updraft speed, which can sustain the growth of large hailstones and provide the upward motion that is necessary to evacuate the violently converging air of a tornado. Stronger updrafts are revealed by the delayed growth of re to greater heights and lower T, because there is less time for the cloud and raindrops to grow by coalescence. The strong updrafts also delay the development of a mixed phase cloud and its eventual glaciation to colder temperatures. Analysis of case studies making use of these and related criteria show that they can be used to identify clouds that possess a significant risk of large hail and tornadoes. Although the strength and direction of the wind shear are major modulating factors, it appears that they are manifested in the updraft intensity and cloud shapes and hence in the T-re profiles. It is observed that the severe storm T-re signature is an extensive property of the clouds that develop ahead in space and time of the actual hail or tornadic storm, suggesting that the probabilities of large hail and tornadoes can be obtained at substantial lead times. Analysis of geostationary satellite time series indicates lead times of up to 2 h.