Tropical Cyclone Intensity Experiment (TCI)

Description:

In this special collection, tropical cyclone outflow and as well as the myriad of processes and dynamics that strongly influence tropical cyclone intensification are investigated in a series of studies that make use of dropwindsondes deployed from the new HDSS (High Definition Sounding System) and remotely sensed observations from HIRAD (Hurricane Imaging Radiometer), both onboard a NASA WB-57 flying in the lower stratosphere as part of the Office of Naval Research Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) field program that took place in the North Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific during 2015. Three noteworthy hurricanes were intensively observed with resolution of unprecedented fidelity: Joaquin in the Atlantic, and Marty and Patricia in the E. Pacific, as well as the remnants of tropical storm Erika. Nearly 800 dropwindsondes were deployed from the WB-57 flight level of ~60,000 feet, recording conditions from the lower stratosphere to the surface, where HIRAD measured the surface winds with a horizontal resolution of 2 km. Subsurface ocean observations were obtained through deployment of Airborne eXpendable BathyThermographs (AXBTs) from Air Force C130s. Dropwindsonde transects with 2-10 nmi spacing through the inner cores of Hurricanes Patricia, Joaquin and Marty reveal strong spatial gradients in winds and thermodynamic properties with a rich spectrum of structure in the horizontal and vertical. Systematic measurements of the hurricane outflow layer were made at high-spatial resolution for the first time for a major hurricane, which illustrate the complex interaction of Joaquin’s outflow with multiple synoptic- scale features associated with the TC’s unusually unpredictable track and intensity. Enhanced satellite data (e.g. rapid-scan Atmospheric Motion Vectors) reveal new aspects of the hurricane outflow layer. The TCI observations motivate a series of complementary numerical simulations and data assimilation experiments using state-of-the-science tropical cyclone prediction systems to further explore dynamics, processes and predictability aspects of tropical cyclones. Accurate prediction of tropical cyclone intensity remains the greatest challenge in meteorology today. The upper portions of tropical cyclones have remained largely unexplored until the recently completed Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) field program that took place in the North Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific during 2015. An overview paper describing the project is available here.

Collection organizers:
James D. Doyle, Naval Research Laboratory
Ronald Ferek, Office of Naval Research

Tropical Cyclone Intensity Experiment (TCI)

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David R. Ryglicki, Daniel Hodyss, and Gregory Rainwater

Abstract

The interactions between the outflow of a tropical cyclone (TC) and its background flow are explored using a hierarchy of models of varying complexity. Previous studies have established that, for a select class of TCs that undergo rapid intensification in moderate values of vertical wind shear, the upper-level outflow of the TC can block and reroute the environmental winds, thus reducing the shear and permitting the TC to align and subsequently to intensify. We identify in satellite imagery and reanalysis datasets the presence of tilt nutations and evidence of upwind blocking by the divergent wind field, which are critical components of atypical rapid intensification. We then demonstrate how an analytical expression and a shallow water model can be used to explain some of the structure of upper-level outflow. The analytical expression shows that the dynamic high inside the outflow front is a superposition of two pressure anomalies caused by the outflow’s deceleration by the environment and by the environment’s deceleration by the outflow. The shallow water model illustrates that the blocking is almost entirely dependent upon the divergent component of the wind. Then, using a divergent kinetic energy budget analysis, we demonstrate that, in a full-physics TC, upper-level divergent flow generation occurs in two phases: pressure driven and then momentum driven. The change happens when the tilt precession reaches left of shear. When this change occurs, the outflow blocking extends upshear. We discuss these results with regard to prior severe weather studies.

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Robert G. Nystrom and Fuqing Zhang

Abstract

Hurricane Patricia (2015) was a record-breaking tropical cyclone that was difficult to forecast in real time by both operational numerical weather prediction models and operational forecasters. The current study examines the potential for improving intensity prediction for extreme cases like Hurricane Patricia. We find that Patricia’s intensity predictability is potentially limited by both initial conditions, related to the data assimilation, and model errors. First, convection-permitting assimilation of airborne Doppler radar radial velocity observations with an ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) demonstrates notable intensity forecast improvements over assimilation of conventional observations alone. Second, decreasing the model horizontal grid spacing to 1 km and reducing the surface drag coefficient at high wind speed in the parameterization of the sea surface–atmosphere exchanges is also shown to notably improve intensity forecasts. The practical predictability of Patricia, its peak intensity, rapid intensification, and the underlying dynamics are further investigated through a high-resolution 60-member ensemble initialized with realistic initial condition uncertainties represented by the EnKF posterior analysis perturbations. Most of the ensemble members are able to predict the peak intensity of Patricia, but with greater uncertainty in the timing and rate of intensification; some members fail to reach the ultimate peak intensity before making landfall. Ensemble sensitivity analysis shows that initial differences in the region beyond the radius of maximum wind contributes the most to the differences between ensemble members in Patricia’s intensification. Ensemble members with stronger initial primary and secondary circulations beyond the radius of maximum wind intensify earlier, are able to maintain the intensification process for longer, and thus reach a greater and earlier peak intensity.

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Jie Feng and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

The dropsondes released during the Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) field campaign provide high-resolution kinematic and thermodynamic measurements of tropical cyclones within the upper-level outflow and inner core. This study investigates the impact of these upper-level TCI dropsondes on analyses and prediction of Hurricane Patricia (2015) during its rapid intensification (RI) phase using an ensemble–variational data assimilation system. In the baseline experiment (BASE), both kinematic and thermodynamic observations of TCI dropsondes at all levels except the upper levels are assimilated. The upper-level wind and thermodynamic observations are assimilated in additional experiments to investigate their respective impacts. Compared to BASE, assimilating TCI upper-level wind observations improves the accuracy of outflow analyses verified against independent atmospheric motion vector (AMV) observations. It also strengthens the tangential and radial wind near the upper-level eyewall. The inertial stability within the upper-level eyewall is enhanced, and the maximum outflow is more aligned toward the inner core. Additionally, the analyses including the upper-level thermodynamic observations produce a warmer and drier core at high levels. Assimilating both upper-level kinematic and thermodynamic observations also improves the RI forecast. Compared to BASE, assimilating the upper-level wind induces more upright and inward-located eyewall convection, resulting in more latent heat release closer to the warm core. This process leads to stronger inner-core warming. Additionally, the initial warmer upper-level inner core produced by assimilating TCI thermodynamic observations also intensifies the convection and latent heat release within the eyewall, thus further contributing to the improved intensity forecasts.

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David R. Ryglicki, James D. Doyle, Daniel Hodyss, Joshua H. Cossuth, Yi Jin, Kevin C. Viner, and Jerome M. Schmidt

Abstract

Interactions between the upper-level outflow of a sheared, rapidly intensifying tropical cyclone (TC) and the background environmental flow in an idealized model are presented. The most important finding is that the divergent outflow from convection localized by the tilt of the vortex serves to divert the background environmental flow around the TC, thus reducing the local vertical wind shear. We show that this effect can be understood from basic theoretical arguments related to Bernoulli flow around an obstacle. In the simulation discussed, the environmental flow diversion by the outflow is limited to 2 km below the tropopause in the 12–14-km (250–150 hPa) layer. Synthetic water vapor satellite imagery confirms the presence of upshear arcs in the cloud field, matching satellite observations. These arcs, which exist in the same layer as the outflow, are caused by slow-moving wave features and serve as visual markers of the outflow–environment interface. The blocking effect where the outflow and the environmental winds meet creates a dynamic high pressure whose pressure gradient extends nearly 1000 km upwind, thus causing the environmental winds to slow down, to converge, and to sink. We discuss these results with respect to the first part of this three-part study, and apply them to another atypical rapid intensification hurricane: Matthew (2016).

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Jonathan Martinez, Michael M. Bell, Robert F. Rogers, and James D. Doyle

Abstract

Operational numerical models failed to predict the record-setting rapid intensification and rapid overwater weakening of Hurricane Patricia (2015) in the eastern North Pacific basin, resulting in large intensity forecast errors. In an effort to better understand the mesoscale processes contributing to Patricia’s rapid intensity changes, we analyze high-resolution aircraft observations collected on 22–23 October. Spline-based variational analyses are created from observations collected via in situ measurements, Doppler radar, and full-tropospheric dropsonde profiles as part of the Office of Naval Research Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) experiment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Intensity Forecasting Experiment (IFEX). We present the first full-tropospheric calculation of the dry, axisymmetric Ertel’s potential vorticity (PV) in a tropical cyclone without relying on balance assumptions. Detailed analyses reveal the formation of a “hollow tower” PV structure as Patricia rapidly approached its maximum intensity, and a subsequent breakdown of this structure during Patricia’s rapid overwater weakening phase. Transforming the axisymmetric PV analyses from radius–height to potential radius–isentropic coordinates reveals that Patricia’s rapid intensification was closely related to the distribution of diabatic heating and eddy mixing. During Patricia’s rapid overwater weakening phase, eddy mixing processes are hypothesized to be the primary factor rearranging the PV distribution near the eye–eyewall region, diluting the PV previously confined to the hollow tower while approximately conserving the absolute circulation.

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T. Connor Nelson, Lee Harrison, and Kristen L. Corbosiero

Abstract

The newly developed expendable digital dropsonde (XDD) allows for high spatial and temporal resolution data collection in tropical cyclones (TCs). In 2015, a total of 725 XDDs were launched into Hurricanes Marty (27–28 September), Joaquin (2–5 October), and Patricia (20–23 October) as part of the Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) experiment. These dropsondes were launched from a NASA WB-57 at altitudes above 18 km, capturing the full depth of the TCs to the tropopause. This study documents the vertical velocity distributions observed in TCI using the XDDs and examines the distributions altitudinally, radially, and azimuthally. The strongest mean or median XDD-derived vertical velocities observed during TCI occurred in the upper levels and within the cores of the three TCs. There was little azimuthal signal in the vertical velocity distribution, likely due to sampling asymmetries and noise in the data. Downdrafts were strongest in Joaquin, while updrafts were strongest in Patricia, especially within the eyewall on 23 October. Patricia also had an impressive low-level (<2 km) updraft that exceeded 10 m s−1 associated with a shallow, overturning, radial circulation in the secondary eyewall.

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Yi Dai, Sharanya J. Majumdar, and David S. Nolan

Abstract

This study investigates the role of the asymmetric interaction between the tropical cyclone (TC) and the environmental flow in governing the TC inner-core asymmetric structure. Motivated by the limitations of bulk measures of vertical wind shear in representing the complete environmental flow, the TC outflow is used as a focus for the asymmetric interaction. By analyzing an idealized numerical simulation, it is demonstrated that parcels can go directly from the asymmetric rainband to the upper-level outflow. The relatively large vertical mass flux in the rainband region also suggests that the asymmetric rainband is an important source of the outflow. In a simulation that suppresses convection by reducing the water vapor within the rainband region, the upper-level outflow is weakened, further supporting the hypothesis that the rainband and outflow are directly connected. Finally, it is demonstrated that the asymmetric outflow and the outer rainband are coupled through the descending inflow below the outflow. Some of the main characteristics of the outflow–rainband relationship are also supported by a real-case numerical simulation of Hurricane Bill (2009). The relationship is potentially useful for understanding and predicting the evolution of the TC inner-core structure during the interaction with the large-scale environmental flow.

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Shixuan Zhang and Zhaoxia Pu

Abstract

Observations from High-Definition Sounding System (HDSS) dropsondes, collected for Hurricane Joaquin during the Office of Naval Research Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) field experiment in 2015, are assimilated into the NCEP Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) Model. The Gridpoint Statistical Interpolation (GSI)-based hybrid three-dimensional and four-dimensional ensemble–variational (3DEnVar and 4DEnVar) data assimilation configurations are compared. The assimilation of HDSS dropsonde observations can help HWRF initialization by generating consistent analysis between wind and pressure fields and can also compensate for the initial maximum surface wind errors in the absence of initial vortex intensity correction. Compared with GSI–3DEnVar, the assimilation of HDSS dropsonde observations using GSI–4DEnVar generates a more realistic initial vortex intensity and reproduces the rapid weakening (RW) of Hurricane Joaquin, suggesting that the assimilation of high-resolution inner-core observations (e.g., HDSS dropsonde data) based on an advanced data assimilation method (e.g., 4DEnVar) can potentially outperform the vortex initialization scheme currently used in HWRF. Additionally, the assimilation of HDSS dropsonde observations can improve the simulation of vortex structure changes and the accuracy of the vertical motion within the TC inner-core region, which is essential to the successful simulation of the RW of Hurricane Joaquin with HWRF. Additional experiments with GSI–4DEnVar in different configurations also indicate that the performance of GSI–4DEnVar can be further improved with a high-resolution background error covariance and a denser observational bin.

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Xu Lu and Xuguang Wang

Abstract

Assimilating inner-core observations collected from recent field campaign programs such as Tropical Cyclone Intensity (TCI) and Intensity Forecasting Experiment (IFEX) together with the enhanced atmospheric motion vectors (AMVs) produce realistic three-dimensional (3D) analyses using the newly developed GSI-based, continuously cycled, dual-resolution hybrid ensemble–variational data assimilation (DA) system for the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) Model for Hurricane Patricia (2015). However, more persistent surface wind maximum spindown is found in the intensity forecast initialized from the realistic analyses produced by the DA system but not from the unrealistic initial conditions produced through vortex modification. Diagnostics in this study reveal that the spindown issue is likely attributed to the deficient HWRF Model physics that are unable to maintain the realistic 3D structures from the DA analysis. The horizontal diffusion is too strong to maintain the realistically observed vertical oscillation of radial wind near the eyewall region. The vertical diffusion profile cannot produce a sufficiently strong secondary circulation connecting the realistically elevated upper-level outflow produced in the DA analysis. Further investigations with different model physics parameterizations demonstrate that spindown can be alleviated by modifying model physics parameterizations. In particular, a modified turbulent mixing parameterization scheme together with a reduced horizontal diffusion is found to significantly alleviate the spindown issue and to improve the intensity forecast. Additional experiments show that the peak-simulated intensity and rapid intensification rate can be further improved by increasing the model resolution. But the model resolution is not as important as model physics in the spindown alleviation.

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Benjamin C. Trabing, Michael M. Bell, and Bonnie R. Brown

Abstract

Potential intensity theory predicts that the upper-tropospheric temperature acts as an important constraint on tropical cyclone (TC) intensity. The physical mechanisms through which the upper troposphere impacts TC intensity and structure have not been fully explored, however, due in part to limited observations and the complex interactions between clouds, radiation, and TC dynamics. In this study, idealized Weather Research and Forecasting Model ensembles initialized with a combination of three different tropopause temperatures and with no radiation, longwave radiation only, and full diurnal radiation are used to examine the physical mechanisms in the TC–upper-tropospheric temperature relationship on weather time scales. Simulated TC intensity and structure are strongly sensitive to colder tropopause temperatures using only longwave radiation, but are less sensitive using full radiation and no radiation. Colder tropopause temperatures result in deeper convection and increased ice mass aloft in all cases, but are more intense only when radiation was included. Deeper convection leads to increased local longwave cooling rates but reduced top-of-the-atmosphere outgoing longwave radiation, such that the total radiative heat sink is reduced from a Carnot engine perspective in stronger storms. We hypothesize that a balanced response in the secondary circulation described by the Eliassen equation arises from upper-troposphere radiative cooling anomalies that lead to stronger tangential winds. The results of this study further suggest that radiation and cloud–radiative feedbacks have important impacts on weather time scales.

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