A radar-based climatology of mesoscale convective systems in the United States


This research applies an automated mesoscale convective system (MCS) segmentation, classification, and tracking approach to composite radar reflectivity mosaic images that cover the contiguous United States (CONUS) and span a relatively long study period of 22 years (1996–2017). These data afford a novel assessment of the seasonal and interannual variability of MCSs. Additionally, hourly precipitation data from 16 of those years (2002–17) are used to systematically examine rainfall associated with radar-derived MCS events. The attributes and occurrence of MCSs that pass over portions of the CONUS east of the Continental Divide (ECONUS), as well as five author-defined subregions—North Plains, High Plains, Corn Belt, Northeast, and Mid-South—are also examined. The results illustrate two preferred regions for MCS activity in the ECONUS: 1) the Mid-South and Gulf Coast and 2) the Central Plains and Midwest. MCS occurrence and MCS rainfall display a marked seasonal cycle, with most of the regions experiencing these events primarily during the warm season (May–August). Additionally, MCS rainfall was responsible for over 50% of annual and seasonal rainfall for many locations in the ECONUS. Of particular importance, the majority of warm-season rainfall for regions with high agricultural land use (Corn Belt) and important aquifer recharge properties (High Plains) is attributable to MCSs. These results reaffirm that MCSs are a significant aspect of the ECONUS hydroclimate.

Journal of Climate, 32, 1591–1606