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What Percentage of Western North Pacific Tropical Cyclones Form within the Monsoon Trough?

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York
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Abstract

It is frequently stated that 70%–80% of western North Pacific tropical cyclones form “within the monsoon trough,” but without an objective definition of the term. Several definitions are tested here. When the monsoon trough (MT) is defined as the contiguous region where long-term (1988–2010) mean July–November 850-hPa relative vorticity is positive, 73% of all July–November tropical cyclones form within the MT. This percentage varies interannually, however, from as low as 50% to nearly 100%. The percentage correlates with the Niño-3.4 index, with more storms forming within the MT during warm periods. When the MT is defined instead using long-term monthly mean ζ850, more than 80% of tropical cyclones form within the MT in all months except July and August, when more than 30% of storms form poleward of the MT. It is hypothesized that the known peak in the frequency of upper-tropospheric midlatitude wave breaking in July and August is responsible. It is argued that any long-term mean provides a suitable definition of the MT. Defining it on less than seasonal time scales, however, creates a lack of conceptual separation between the MT and other tropical disturbances such as the MJO, equatorial waves, and easterly waves. The term monsoon trough should represent a climatological feature that provides an asymmetric background state within which other disturbances evolve.

Corresponding author address: John Molinari, Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, SUNY, ES-225, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222. E-mail: jmolinari@albany.edu

Abstract

It is frequently stated that 70%–80% of western North Pacific tropical cyclones form “within the monsoon trough,” but without an objective definition of the term. Several definitions are tested here. When the monsoon trough (MT) is defined as the contiguous region where long-term (1988–2010) mean July–November 850-hPa relative vorticity is positive, 73% of all July–November tropical cyclones form within the MT. This percentage varies interannually, however, from as low as 50% to nearly 100%. The percentage correlates with the Niño-3.4 index, with more storms forming within the MT during warm periods. When the MT is defined instead using long-term monthly mean ζ850, more than 80% of tropical cyclones form within the MT in all months except July and August, when more than 30% of storms form poleward of the MT. It is hypothesized that the known peak in the frequency of upper-tropospheric midlatitude wave breaking in July and August is responsible. It is argued that any long-term mean provides a suitable definition of the MT. Defining it on less than seasonal time scales, however, creates a lack of conceptual separation between the MT and other tropical disturbances such as the MJO, equatorial waves, and easterly waves. The term monsoon trough should represent a climatological feature that provides an asymmetric background state within which other disturbances evolve.

Corresponding author address: John Molinari, Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, SUNY, ES-225, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222. E-mail: jmolinari@albany.edu
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