March 07, 2004 High Wind Event
Additional in-depth looks at this event (preliminary)
A look at the factors affecting the thermal profile in this case (updated 2004/04/28)
Michael Brennan Michael Brennan NC State University
A look at the potential contribution of a stratospheric intrusion in this case (added 2004/04/07)
Gail Hartfield firstname.lastname@example.org NWS Raleigh
A strong cold front accompanied by a very strong upper level disturbance raced across North Carolina during the
evening hours of Sunday March 7th. Although some thunderstorms accompanied the frontal passage, thunderstorms
were not generally responsible for the damaging winds that moved across
the state. The large swath of high winds between 45 and
65 MPH that moved across the state between 6:00 PM on Sunday, March 7 through about 12:00
midnight on Monday, March 8 appear to be from downburst winds enhanced by an unstable atmosphere.
Wind gusts in excess of 50 MPH were reported at more than two dozen official NWS/FAA reporting
stations. There were countless reports of trees blown down and more limited reports of property
damage. Local media reported that as many as 200,000 customers across North Carolina lost power
during the storm.
Figure 1 - Map of maximum winds (in MPH) from locations across North Carolina
Damaging winds in central North Carolina are typically the result of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, or
the inland effects from tropical cyclones. While there were reports of thunder and lighting
on Sunday evening (3/7/04) associated with a very strong upper level system (
see Figure 2
), NWS meteorologists observed that most of the damaging wind events in central North Carolina were not
associated with the thunderstorms themselves. Rather the damaging winds were generally reported
near the leading edge of rain advancing eastward on radar (
see radar loop
So if thunderstorms and strong dynamics aloft did not offer a complete accounting for the
damaging winds, what might? A preliminary evaluation points to an unlikely answer for this
region of the country - dry down bursts. The term refers to high winds associated with
little, if any precipitation. Observations of winds and rainfall across central
North Carolina indicates that high wind reports did indeed occur with little or no rainfall (e.g.,
61 knots of wind with a trace of rain at Fayetteville). More compelling evidence for a dry down burst
environment is shown in the GSO RAOB at 00Z on 3/8/04 (
see Figure 6
), just prior to the
0034Z report at GSO of a 48 knot down burst wind accompanied by only 0.01 inches of rain.
Figure 2 - 00Z 03/08/04 500 MB Upper Air Plot
Synoptic scale forcing supporting strong vertical ascent can been seen at 500 mb on 00z 03/08/04. Note the 125 kt wind and height falls of 16 decameters in the northwest flow over Nashville TN.
Many of the RAOB sounding characteristics associated with dry down bursts can be seen on
the initialized ETA forecast sounding at GSO valid at 00Z 3/8/04. Note the steep temperature lapse rate in the dry
sub cloud layer (
see Figure 3
). The sharp decrease in temperature from the surface to around 650 MB provides
a great deal of instability to generate updrafts which in turn produce precipitation aloft. The spatial
separation between the temperature (red line) and dew point (green line) indicates an unusual
deep and dry sub cloud layer capped by a moist layer aloft. As precipitation falls into the
sub cloud dry air, it is quickly evaporated and/or sublimated. This process cools the air
producing a downward directed buoyancy with negative momentum. In addition, higher winds
found aloft in the precipitation generating area are maintained as the down drafts descend
toward the surface.
Figure 3 - 00Z 03/08/04 ETA Initialization at GSO from BUFKIT
Shows environmental conditions favorable for a dry down burst wind. Note the steep temperature
lapse rates (instability) in the sub cloud layer capped by a moist layer above (potential for
strong down bursts initiated by rapid evaporation of precipitation).
Figure 4 - 00Z 03/07/04 GSO RAOB
GSO RAOB from 00Z 03/07/04.
As previously noted, the characteristics of the afternoon sounding at GSO at 00z 3/8/04 (
see Figure 6
). were very
favorable for supporting dry down bursts winds. But early Sunday morning (12Z 3/7/04), meteorologists
saw a striking different GSO sounding(
see Figure 5
). Note the quite stable and rather moist layer from the surface
to around 800 mb and the warm inversion above centered near 700 mb. By referencing the GSO sounding
observed on the previous afternoon (Saturday 00Z 3/7/04),
see Figure 5
), we see the inversion aloft was one associated
with the passage of a dry cold front during the day on Saturday. With atmospheric mixing from daytime
heating, we would expect to see a dry sub cloud adiabatic layer beneath the 700 mb inversion Sunday
afternoon much as appeared on Saturday afternoon at 00z 3/8/04. Instead, the Sunday afternoon sounding
shows a remarkably deep dry sub cloud adiabatic layer. The depth of the dry adiabatic layer so favorable
for dry down bursts winds was largely produced by the strong dynamics (160 m height falls) and cold air
advection associated with the vigorous upstream trough approaching North Carolina in the northwest flow
aloft. Thus the upper dynamics were essential for producing the remarkably deep dry sub cloud adiabatic
layer favorable for dry down burst winds.
Figure 5 - 12Z 03/07/04 GSO RAOB
GSO RAOB from 00Z 03/07/04.
Figure 6 - 00Z 03/08/04 GSO RAOB
GSO RAOB from 00Z 03/07/04, shows environmental conditions favorable for a dry down burst wind.
Figure 7 - Wind data from the roof top at Jordan Hall on the campus of NC State University.
The cooling effects and wind gusts associated with the down burst gust
front can be seen from the surface observations plotted at 02Z on 3/8/04 (
see Figure 9
). Note temperatures are in the 40s accompanied by wind gusts in the 35 to 45 mph range on the cool side of
the gust front.
Figure 8 - Surface METAR plot from 00Z 03/08/04
Figure 9 - Surface METAR plot from 02Z 03/08/04
More in-depth looks at this event (preliminary... more to come!)
Dr. Michael Kaplan (NC State University) for his insights into the evolution of the deep dry sub cloud adiabatic sounding.
Dr. Allan Riordan (NC State University) for supplying the wind data atop Jordan Hall on NCSU campus.
Case Study Team