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Validating Atmospheric Reanalysis Data using Tropical Cyclones as Thermometers

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  • 1 NOAA/National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina
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Abstract

Temperatures in the upper troposphere of the atmosphere, near the tropopause, play a key role in the evolution of tropical cyclones (TC) by controlling their potential intensity (PI), which describes the thermodynamically based maximum TC intensity that the environment will support. Accurately identifying past trends in PI is critical for understanding the causes of observed changes in TC intensity, but calculations of PI trends using different atmospheric reanalysis products can give very different results, largely due to differences in their representation of upper-tropospheric temperatures. Without a means to verify the fidelity of the upper-tropospheric temperatures, PI trends calculated from these products are very uncertain.

Here, a method is introduced to validate the upper-tropospheric temperatures in the reanalysis products by using the TCs themselves as thermometers. Using a 30-yr global dataset of TC cloud-top temperatures and three widely utilized atmospheric reanalysis products—Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA), ECMWF interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim), and NCEP–NCAR Global Reanalysis 1—it is shown that storm-local upper-level temperatures in the MERRA and ERA-Interim data vary similarly to the TC cloud-top temperatures on both interannual and decadal time scales, but the NCEP–NCAR data have substantial biases that introduce an increasing trend in storm-local PI not found in the other two products. The lack of global storm-local PI trends is due to a balance between temporal increases in the mean state and the poleward migration of TCs into lower climatological PI, and it has significant implications for the detection and attribution of mean TC intensity trends.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: James Kossin, NOAA/Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706, E-mail: james.kossin@noaa.gov

Abstract

Temperatures in the upper troposphere of the atmosphere, near the tropopause, play a key role in the evolution of tropical cyclones (TC) by controlling their potential intensity (PI), which describes the thermodynamically based maximum TC intensity that the environment will support. Accurately identifying past trends in PI is critical for understanding the causes of observed changes in TC intensity, but calculations of PI trends using different atmospheric reanalysis products can give very different results, largely due to differences in their representation of upper-tropospheric temperatures. Without a means to verify the fidelity of the upper-tropospheric temperatures, PI trends calculated from these products are very uncertain.

Here, a method is introduced to validate the upper-tropospheric temperatures in the reanalysis products by using the TCs themselves as thermometers. Using a 30-yr global dataset of TC cloud-top temperatures and three widely utilized atmospheric reanalysis products—Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA), ECMWF interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim), and NCEP–NCAR Global Reanalysis 1—it is shown that storm-local upper-level temperatures in the MERRA and ERA-Interim data vary similarly to the TC cloud-top temperatures on both interannual and decadal time scales, but the NCEP–NCAR data have substantial biases that introduce an increasing trend in storm-local PI not found in the other two products. The lack of global storm-local PI trends is due to a balance between temporal increases in the mean state and the poleward migration of TCs into lower climatological PI, and it has significant implications for the detection and attribution of mean TC intensity trends.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: James Kossin, NOAA/Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706, E-mail: james.kossin@noaa.gov
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