An Examination of Tropical Cyclone Position, Intensity, and Intensity Life Cycle within Atmospheric Reanalysis Datasets

Benjamin A. Schenkel Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

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Robert E. Hart Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

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Abstract

The following study examines the position and intensity differences of tropical cyclones (TCs) among the Best-Track and five atmospheric reanalysis datasets to evaluate the degree to which reanalyses are appropriate for studying TCs. While significant differences are found in both reanalysis TC intensity and position, the representation of TC intensity within reanalyses is found to be most problematic owing to its underestimation beyond what can be attributed solely to the coarse grid resolution. Moreover, the mean life cycle of normalized TC intensity within reanalyses reveals an underestimation of both prepeak intensification rates as well as a delay in peak intensity relative to the Best-Track. These discrepancies between Best-Track and reanalysis TC intensity and position can further be described through correlations with such parameters as Best-Track TC age, Best-Track TC intensity, Best-Track TC location, and the extended Best-Track TC size. Specifically, TC position differences within the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-I), and Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) exhibit statistically significant correlations (0.27 ≤ R ≤ 0.38) with the proximity of TCs to observation dense areas in the North Atlantic (NATL) and western North Pacific (WPAC). Reanalysis TC intensity is found to be most strongly correlated with Best-Track TC size (0.53 ≤ R ≤ 0.70 for maximum 10-m wind speed; −0.71 ≤ R ≤ −0.53 for minimum mean sea level pressure) while exhibiting smaller, yet significant, correlations with Best-Track TC age, Best-Track TC intensity, and Best-Track TC latitude. Of the three basins examined, the eastern North Pacific (EPAC) has the largest reanalysis TC position differences and weakest intensities possibly due to a relative dearth of observations, the strong nearby terrain gradient, and the movement of TCs away from the most observation dense portion of the basin over time. The smaller mean Best-Track size and shorter mean lifespan of Best-Track EPAC TCs may also yield weaker reanalysis TC intensities. Of the five reanalyses, the smaller position differences and stronger intensities found in the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) and Japanese 25-year Reanalysis (JRA-25) are attributed to the use of vortex relocation and TC wind profile retrievals, respectively. The discrepancies in TC position between the Best-Track and reanalyses combined with the muted magnitude of TC intensity and its partially nonphysical life cycle within reanalyses suggests that caution should be exercised when utilizing these datasets for studies that rely either on TC intensity (raw or normalized) or track. Finally, several cases of nonphysical TC structure also argue that further work is needed to improve TC representation while implying that studies focusing solely on TC intensity and track do not necessarily extend to other aspects of TC representation.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin A. Schenkel, Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. E-mail: benschenkel@gmail.com

This article is included in the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) special collection.

Abstract

The following study examines the position and intensity differences of tropical cyclones (TCs) among the Best-Track and five atmospheric reanalysis datasets to evaluate the degree to which reanalyses are appropriate for studying TCs. While significant differences are found in both reanalysis TC intensity and position, the representation of TC intensity within reanalyses is found to be most problematic owing to its underestimation beyond what can be attributed solely to the coarse grid resolution. Moreover, the mean life cycle of normalized TC intensity within reanalyses reveals an underestimation of both prepeak intensification rates as well as a delay in peak intensity relative to the Best-Track. These discrepancies between Best-Track and reanalysis TC intensity and position can further be described through correlations with such parameters as Best-Track TC age, Best-Track TC intensity, Best-Track TC location, and the extended Best-Track TC size. Specifically, TC position differences within the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-I), and Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) exhibit statistically significant correlations (0.27 ≤ R ≤ 0.38) with the proximity of TCs to observation dense areas in the North Atlantic (NATL) and western North Pacific (WPAC). Reanalysis TC intensity is found to be most strongly correlated with Best-Track TC size (0.53 ≤ R ≤ 0.70 for maximum 10-m wind speed; −0.71 ≤ R ≤ −0.53 for minimum mean sea level pressure) while exhibiting smaller, yet significant, correlations with Best-Track TC age, Best-Track TC intensity, and Best-Track TC latitude. Of the three basins examined, the eastern North Pacific (EPAC) has the largest reanalysis TC position differences and weakest intensities possibly due to a relative dearth of observations, the strong nearby terrain gradient, and the movement of TCs away from the most observation dense portion of the basin over time. The smaller mean Best-Track size and shorter mean lifespan of Best-Track EPAC TCs may also yield weaker reanalysis TC intensities. Of the five reanalyses, the smaller position differences and stronger intensities found in the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) and Japanese 25-year Reanalysis (JRA-25) are attributed to the use of vortex relocation and TC wind profile retrievals, respectively. The discrepancies in TC position between the Best-Track and reanalyses combined with the muted magnitude of TC intensity and its partially nonphysical life cycle within reanalyses suggests that caution should be exercised when utilizing these datasets for studies that rely either on TC intensity (raw or normalized) or track. Finally, several cases of nonphysical TC structure also argue that further work is needed to improve TC representation while implying that studies focusing solely on TC intensity and track do not necessarily extend to other aspects of TC representation.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin A. Schenkel, Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. E-mail: benschenkel@gmail.com

This article is included in the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) special collection.

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