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GPS Dropwindsonde Wind Profiles in Hurricanes and Their Operational Implications

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  • 1 Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, NOAA/National Weather Service, Miami, Florida
  • | 2 Hurricane Research Division, NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida
  • | 3 Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, NOAA/National Weather Service, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

The recent development of the global positioning system (GPS) dropwindsonde has allowed the wind and thermodynamic structure of the hurricane eyewall to be documented with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. In an attempt to assist operational hurricane forecasters in their duties, dropwindsonde data have been used in this study to document, for the first time, the mean vertical profile of wind speed in the hurricane inner core from the surface to the 700-hPa level, the level typically flown by reconnaissance aircraft. The dropwindsonde-derived mean eyewall wind profile is characterized by a broad maximum centered 500 m above the surface. In the frictional boundary layer below this broad maximum, the wind decreases nearly linearly with the logarithm of the altitude. Above the maximum, the winds decrease because of the hurricane's warm core. These two effects combine to give a surface wind that is, on average, about 90% of the 700-hPa value. The dropwindsonde observations largely confirm recent operational practices at the National Hurricane Center for the interpretation of flight-level data. Hurricane wind profiles outside of the eyewall region are characterized by a higher level of maximum wind, near 1 km, and a more constant wind speed between 700 hPa and the top of the boundary layer. Two factors that likely affect the eyewall profile structure are wind speed and vertical motion. A minimum in surface wind adjustment factor (i.e., relatively low surface wind speeds) was found when the wind near the top of the boundary layer was between 40 and 60 m s−1. At higher wind speeds, the fraction of the boundary layer wind speed found at the surface increased, contrary to expectation. Low-level downdrafts, and enhanced vertical motion generally, were also associated with higher relative surface winds. These results may be of interest to engineers concerned with building codes, to emergency managers who may be tempted to use high-rise buildings as a “refuge of last resort” in coastal areas, and to those people on locally elevated terrain. The top of a 25-story coastal high-rise in the hurricane eyewall will experience a mean wind that is about 17% higher (or one Saffir–Simpson hurricane-scale category) than the surface or advisory value. For this reason, residents who must take refuge in coastal high-rises should generally do so at the lowest levels necessary to avoid storm surge.

Corresponding author address: James L. Franklin, Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, NOAA/NWS, 11691 SW 17th St., Miami, FL 33165-2149. Email: james.franklin@noaa.gov

Abstract

The recent development of the global positioning system (GPS) dropwindsonde has allowed the wind and thermodynamic structure of the hurricane eyewall to be documented with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. In an attempt to assist operational hurricane forecasters in their duties, dropwindsonde data have been used in this study to document, for the first time, the mean vertical profile of wind speed in the hurricane inner core from the surface to the 700-hPa level, the level typically flown by reconnaissance aircraft. The dropwindsonde-derived mean eyewall wind profile is characterized by a broad maximum centered 500 m above the surface. In the frictional boundary layer below this broad maximum, the wind decreases nearly linearly with the logarithm of the altitude. Above the maximum, the winds decrease because of the hurricane's warm core. These two effects combine to give a surface wind that is, on average, about 90% of the 700-hPa value. The dropwindsonde observations largely confirm recent operational practices at the National Hurricane Center for the interpretation of flight-level data. Hurricane wind profiles outside of the eyewall region are characterized by a higher level of maximum wind, near 1 km, and a more constant wind speed between 700 hPa and the top of the boundary layer. Two factors that likely affect the eyewall profile structure are wind speed and vertical motion. A minimum in surface wind adjustment factor (i.e., relatively low surface wind speeds) was found when the wind near the top of the boundary layer was between 40 and 60 m s−1. At higher wind speeds, the fraction of the boundary layer wind speed found at the surface increased, contrary to expectation. Low-level downdrafts, and enhanced vertical motion generally, were also associated with higher relative surface winds. These results may be of interest to engineers concerned with building codes, to emergency managers who may be tempted to use high-rise buildings as a “refuge of last resort” in coastal areas, and to those people on locally elevated terrain. The top of a 25-story coastal high-rise in the hurricane eyewall will experience a mean wind that is about 17% higher (or one Saffir–Simpson hurricane-scale category) than the surface or advisory value. For this reason, residents who must take refuge in coastal high-rises should generally do so at the lowest levels necessary to avoid storm surge.

Corresponding author address: James L. Franklin, Tropical Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, NOAA/NWS, 11691 SW 17th St., Miami, FL 33165-2149. Email: james.franklin@noaa.gov

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