Layers of insect echoes near a thunderstorm and implications for the interpretation of radar data in terms of airflow

K. A. Browning, J. C. Nicol, J. H. Marsham, P. Rogberg, E. G. Norton

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    Insects can serve as useful radar targets for determining aspects of the structure and kinematics of the atmosphere, but it is necessary sometimes to know more about insect behaviour in order to have confidence in the meteorological interpretations. A variety of meteorological radars situated at Chilbolton in southern England have been used to investigate the nature of multiple shallow clear-air echo layers that were detected at heights between 1.0 and 2.5 km in the vicinity of an elevated daytime thunderstorm (mesoscale convective system). Multi-wavelength and polarization measurements were used to confirm that the layers were due in large part to insects. The layers were within potentially warm air near the top of a cold undercurrent of surface air. The convective updraught of the thunderstorm was fed by air from just above the cold undercurrent. Some of the insect layers were within air destined to ascend into the storm's convective updraught and some were within undercurrent air that was forced to ascend only temporarily as the storm approached. Initially the layer echoes ascended with the airflow but then, close to the storm, their intensity weakened despite continuing updraughts, mainly as a result of the insects dropping downwards. Far ahead of the storm the insects showed a strong preference to remain within their individual shallow layers but, even close to the storm, where they started dropping out, insects still retained a preference to be within these layers. As a result, some layers continued to be discernible as they followed the ascending airflow towards the storm, thereby continuing to serve as useful meteorological tracers of the perturbed flow in the vicinity of the thunderstorm. © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)723-735
    Number of pages12
    JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
    Issue number656
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


    • Clear-air echoes
    • Doppler radar
    • Elevated convection
    • Mesoscale convective system
    • Migrating insects
    • Thunderstorm inflow


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