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Aviation Glossary :: Supercell Thunderstorm  Aviation Glossary :: Supercell Thunderstorm FAA Written Test Preparation
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Supercell Thunderstorm
Supercell Thunderstorm
A large, powerful type of thunderstorm that forms in very unstable environments with vertical and horizontal wind shear. These are almost always associated with severe weather, strong surface winds, large hail, and/or tornadoes.
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source: FAA Glider Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-13A)

Potentially the most dangerous of the convective storm types. Storms possessing this structure have been observed to generate the vast majority of long-lived strong and violent (F2-F5) tornadoes, as well as downburst damage and large hail. It is defined as a thunderstorm consisting of one quasi-steady to rotating updraft which may exist for several hours. Supercells usually move to the right of the mean wind. These are called "Right Movers" and they are favored with veering winds. Occasionally, these thunderstorms will move to the left of the mean wind. These thunderstorms are called "Left Movers". These supercells typically don't last as long as their "Right Mover" cousins and they usually only produce large hail (greater than 3/4 inch in diameter) and severe wind gusts in the excess of 58 miles an hour. Left Movers are favored when you have backing winds.

Radar will observe essentially one long-lived cell, but small perturbations to the cell structure may be evident. The stronger the updraft, the better the chance that the supercell will produce severe (hail greater than 3/4 inch in diameter, wind gusts greater than 58 miles an hour, and possibly a tornado) weather.

Severe supercell development is most likely in an environment possessing great buoyancy (CAPE) and large vertical wind shear. A Bulk Richardson Number of between 15 and 35 favor supercell development. Typically, the hodograph will look like a horse shoe. This is due to the wind speed increasing rapidly with height and the wind direction either veering or backing rapidly with height.

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source: NOAA National Weather Service Glossary


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