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Mesoscale Observations of the Genesis of Hurricane Dolly (1996)

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • 2 Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, The University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York
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Abstract

Recent numerical studies of tropical cyclone genesis suggest a new paradigm for how the surface vortex is established based on a highly nonaxisymmetric mechanism involving the interaction of low-level cyclonic circulations generated by deep cumulonimbus convection. A reexamination of mesoscale observations during the genesis of Hurricane Guillermo (1991) confirms the presence of multiple cyclonic circulations. More recently, airborne Doppler radar wind observations during the genesis of Atlantic Hurricane Dolly (1996) also reveal multiple lower-to-middle-tropospheric mesoscale cyclonic circulations during sequential 15–20-min compositing periods.

A particularly well-organized, but initially weak (mean tangential wind of 7 m s−1), low-level cyclonic vortex embedded within the pre-Dolly tropical disturbance is observed coincident with deep, vertically penetrating cumulonimbus convection. The earliest observations of this vortex show the peak circulation near 2-km height with a mean diameter of 30–40 km. The circulation undergoes a slight intensification over a 2-h period, with the maximum tangential winds ultimately peaking below 1-km height. Approximately 18 h after these observations Dolly is classified as a hurricane by the National Hurricane Center.

A synthesis of observations during the early development of Dolly supports a stochastic view of tropical cyclone genesis in which multiple lower-to-middle-tropospheric mesoscale cyclonic circulations are involved in building the surface cyclonic circulation. It is suggested that, in particular, the interaction of low-level circulations generated by a series of deep cumulonimbus convective events, like the one documented here, within an environment of elevated cyclonic vorticity was instrumental to the formation of the Dolly surface vortex.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Paul D. Reasor, Dept. of Meteorology, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Email: reasor@met.fsu.edu

Abstract

Recent numerical studies of tropical cyclone genesis suggest a new paradigm for how the surface vortex is established based on a highly nonaxisymmetric mechanism involving the interaction of low-level cyclonic circulations generated by deep cumulonimbus convection. A reexamination of mesoscale observations during the genesis of Hurricane Guillermo (1991) confirms the presence of multiple cyclonic circulations. More recently, airborne Doppler radar wind observations during the genesis of Atlantic Hurricane Dolly (1996) also reveal multiple lower-to-middle-tropospheric mesoscale cyclonic circulations during sequential 15–20-min compositing periods.

A particularly well-organized, but initially weak (mean tangential wind of 7 m s−1), low-level cyclonic vortex embedded within the pre-Dolly tropical disturbance is observed coincident with deep, vertically penetrating cumulonimbus convection. The earliest observations of this vortex show the peak circulation near 2-km height with a mean diameter of 30–40 km. The circulation undergoes a slight intensification over a 2-h period, with the maximum tangential winds ultimately peaking below 1-km height. Approximately 18 h after these observations Dolly is classified as a hurricane by the National Hurricane Center.

A synthesis of observations during the early development of Dolly supports a stochastic view of tropical cyclone genesis in which multiple lower-to-middle-tropospheric mesoscale cyclonic circulations are involved in building the surface cyclonic circulation. It is suggested that, in particular, the interaction of low-level circulations generated by a series of deep cumulonimbus convective events, like the one documented here, within an environment of elevated cyclonic vorticity was instrumental to the formation of the Dolly surface vortex.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Paul D. Reasor, Dept. of Meteorology, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Email: reasor@met.fsu.edu

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