Development of Synoptic-Scale Disturbances over the Summertime Tropical Northwest Pacific

Adam H. Sobel Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Christopher S. Bretherton Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

This study addresses the origin of the synoptic-scale disturbances that occur in the tropical western North Pacific ocean (WP) region in Northern Hemisphere summer. These have been called “easterly waves” and“tropical depression–type” (TD) disturbances. This analysis uses the National Center for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis dataset. By performing a regression analysis on several terms in the vorticity equation at 850 hPa, it is shown that the TD disturbances propagate approximately as barotropic Rossby waves at 850 hPa. Given this, ray-tracing calculations and the wave activity diagnostic introduced by Plumb are used to show that wave accumulation is a promising candidate for the initial development mechanism of the TD disturbances. The expected local “growth rate” from this mechanism is simply the convergence of the group velocity, which reaches values corresponding to a growth timescale of 3 days. This convergence is dominated by, but somewhat larger than, the convergence in the time-mean flow. The wave accumulation mechanism can operate either on waves coming from outside the WP region or on those generated in situ; in particular, mature tropical cyclones are probably a climatologically important source of waves. While the results presented here provide no direct information on the nature of the feedbacks between diabatic processes and large-scale wave dynamics, they do indicate that no linear instability mechanism involving any diabatic process need be invoked to explain the initial development of TD disturbances. It is possible, rather, that diabatic processes do not provide a positive feedback until the disturbances reach finite amplitude, whether at the stage of true tropical cyclogenesis or some prior intermediate stage.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Adam H. Sobel, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640.

Email: sobel@atmos.washington.edu

Abstract

This study addresses the origin of the synoptic-scale disturbances that occur in the tropical western North Pacific ocean (WP) region in Northern Hemisphere summer. These have been called “easterly waves” and“tropical depression–type” (TD) disturbances. This analysis uses the National Center for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis dataset. By performing a regression analysis on several terms in the vorticity equation at 850 hPa, it is shown that the TD disturbances propagate approximately as barotropic Rossby waves at 850 hPa. Given this, ray-tracing calculations and the wave activity diagnostic introduced by Plumb are used to show that wave accumulation is a promising candidate for the initial development mechanism of the TD disturbances. The expected local “growth rate” from this mechanism is simply the convergence of the group velocity, which reaches values corresponding to a growth timescale of 3 days. This convergence is dominated by, but somewhat larger than, the convergence in the time-mean flow. The wave accumulation mechanism can operate either on waves coming from outside the WP region or on those generated in situ; in particular, mature tropical cyclones are probably a climatologically important source of waves. While the results presented here provide no direct information on the nature of the feedbacks between diabatic processes and large-scale wave dynamics, they do indicate that no linear instability mechanism involving any diabatic process need be invoked to explain the initial development of TD disturbances. It is possible, rather, that diabatic processes do not provide a positive feedback until the disturbances reach finite amplitude, whether at the stage of true tropical cyclogenesis or some prior intermediate stage.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Adam H. Sobel, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640.

Email: sobel@atmos.washington.edu

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