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Analysis of Hurricane Catarina (2004)

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • | 4 Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The development of Hurricane Catarina over the western South Atlantic Ocean in March 2004 marks the first time that the existence of a hurricane has been confirmed by analysis and satellite imagery in the South Atlantic basin. The storm undergoes a complex life cycle, beginning as an extratropical precursor that moves east-southeastward off the Brazilian coast and toward the midlatitudes. Its eastward progress is halted and the system is steered back westward toward the Brazilian coast as it encounters a strengthening dipole-blocking structure east of the South American continent. Entering the large region of weak vertical shear that characterizes this blocking pattern, Catarina begins a tropical transition process over anomalously cool 25°C ocean waters above which an elevated potential intensity is supported by the cold upper-level air associated with the trough component of the block. As the convective outflow from the developing tropical system reinforces the ridge component of the dipole block, the storm is accelerated westward toward the Santa Catarina province of Brazil and makes landfall there as a nominal category-1 hurricane, causing extensive damage with its heavy rains and strong winds.

The complex evolution of the system is analyzed using a suite of diagnostic tools, and a conceptual model of the tropical transition and steering processes in the presence of a dipole block is developed. Once the essential properties of the upper-level flow are established, an analog study is undertaken to investigate lower-atmospheric responses to similar blocking regimes. Persistent dipole-blocking structures are found to be rare east of South America; however, the evolution of systems occurring during these periods is shown to be complex and to exhibit various subtropical development modes.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Ron McTaggart-Cowan, DEAS-ES351, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222. Email: rmctc@atmos.albany.edu

Abstract

The development of Hurricane Catarina over the western South Atlantic Ocean in March 2004 marks the first time that the existence of a hurricane has been confirmed by analysis and satellite imagery in the South Atlantic basin. The storm undergoes a complex life cycle, beginning as an extratropical precursor that moves east-southeastward off the Brazilian coast and toward the midlatitudes. Its eastward progress is halted and the system is steered back westward toward the Brazilian coast as it encounters a strengthening dipole-blocking structure east of the South American continent. Entering the large region of weak vertical shear that characterizes this blocking pattern, Catarina begins a tropical transition process over anomalously cool 25°C ocean waters above which an elevated potential intensity is supported by the cold upper-level air associated with the trough component of the block. As the convective outflow from the developing tropical system reinforces the ridge component of the dipole block, the storm is accelerated westward toward the Santa Catarina province of Brazil and makes landfall there as a nominal category-1 hurricane, causing extensive damage with its heavy rains and strong winds.

The complex evolution of the system is analyzed using a suite of diagnostic tools, and a conceptual model of the tropical transition and steering processes in the presence of a dipole block is developed. Once the essential properties of the upper-level flow are established, an analog study is undertaken to investigate lower-atmospheric responses to similar blocking regimes. Persistent dipole-blocking structures are found to be rare east of South America; however, the evolution of systems occurring during these periods is shown to be complex and to exhibit various subtropical development modes.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Ron McTaggart-Cowan, DEAS-ES351, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222. Email: rmctc@atmos.albany.edu

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