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Intensity and Structure Changes during Hurricane Eyewall Replacement Cycles

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
  • | 2 NOAA/National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina, and Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
  • | 3 Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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Abstract

A flight-level aircraft dataset consisting of 79 Atlantic basin hurricanes from 1977 to 2007 was used to develop an unprecedented climatology of inner-core intensity and structure changes associated with eyewall replacement cycles (ERCs). During an ERC, the inner-core structure was found to undergo dramatic changes that result in an intensity oscillation and rapid broadening of the wind field. Concentrated temporal sampling by reconnaissance aircraft in 14 of the 79 hurricanes captured virtually the entire evolution of 24 ERC events. The analysis of this large dataset extends the phenomenological paradigm of ERCs described in previous observational case studies by identifying and exploring three distinct phases of ERCs: intensification, weakening, and reintensification. In general, hurricanes intensify, sometimes rapidly, when outer wind maxima are first encountered by aircraft. The mean locations of the inner and outer wind maximum at the start of an ERC are 35 and 106 km from storm center, respectively. The intensification rate of the inner wind maximum begins to slow and the storm ultimately weakens as the inner-core structure begins to organize into concentric rings. On average, the inner wind maximum weakens 10 m s−1 before the outer wind maximum surpasses the inner wind maximum as it continues to intensify. This reintensification can be quite dramatic and often brings the storm to its maximum lifetime intensity. The entire ERC lasts 36 h on average.

Comparison of flight-level data and microwave imagery reveals that the first appearance of an outer wind maximum, often associated with a spiral rainband, typically precedes the weakening of the storm by roughly 9 h, but the weakening is already well under way by the time a secondary convective ring with a well-defined moat appears in microwave imagery. The data also show that winds beyond the outer wind maximum remain elevated even after the outer wind maximum contracts inward. Additionally, the contraction of the outer wind maximum usually ceases at a radius larger than the location of the inner wind maximum at the start of the ERC. The combination of a larger primary eyewall and expanded outer wind field increase the integrated kinetic energy by an average of 28% over the course of a complete ERC despite little change in the maximum intensity between the times of onset and completion of the event.

Corresponding author address: Matthew Sitkowski, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: matts@ssec.wisc.edu

Abstract

A flight-level aircraft dataset consisting of 79 Atlantic basin hurricanes from 1977 to 2007 was used to develop an unprecedented climatology of inner-core intensity and structure changes associated with eyewall replacement cycles (ERCs). During an ERC, the inner-core structure was found to undergo dramatic changes that result in an intensity oscillation and rapid broadening of the wind field. Concentrated temporal sampling by reconnaissance aircraft in 14 of the 79 hurricanes captured virtually the entire evolution of 24 ERC events. The analysis of this large dataset extends the phenomenological paradigm of ERCs described in previous observational case studies by identifying and exploring three distinct phases of ERCs: intensification, weakening, and reintensification. In general, hurricanes intensify, sometimes rapidly, when outer wind maxima are first encountered by aircraft. The mean locations of the inner and outer wind maximum at the start of an ERC are 35 and 106 km from storm center, respectively. The intensification rate of the inner wind maximum begins to slow and the storm ultimately weakens as the inner-core structure begins to organize into concentric rings. On average, the inner wind maximum weakens 10 m s−1 before the outer wind maximum surpasses the inner wind maximum as it continues to intensify. This reintensification can be quite dramatic and often brings the storm to its maximum lifetime intensity. The entire ERC lasts 36 h on average.

Comparison of flight-level data and microwave imagery reveals that the first appearance of an outer wind maximum, often associated with a spiral rainband, typically precedes the weakening of the storm by roughly 9 h, but the weakening is already well under way by the time a secondary convective ring with a well-defined moat appears in microwave imagery. The data also show that winds beyond the outer wind maximum remain elevated even after the outer wind maximum contracts inward. Additionally, the contraction of the outer wind maximum usually ceases at a radius larger than the location of the inner wind maximum at the start of the ERC. The combination of a larger primary eyewall and expanded outer wind field increase the integrated kinetic energy by an average of 28% over the course of a complete ERC despite little change in the maximum intensity between the times of onset and completion of the event.

Corresponding author address: Matthew Sitkowski, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: matts@ssec.wisc.edu
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