Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) observations were used to examine the spatial and temporal changes of the precipitation characteristics of tropical cyclones. SSM/I observations were also combined with the results of a tropical cyclone numerical model to examine the role of inner-core diabatic heating in subsequent intensity changes of tropical cyclones. Included in the SSM/I observations were rainfall characteristics of 18 named western North Atlantic tropical cyclones between 1987 and 1989. The SSM/I rain-rate algorithm that employed the 85-GHz channel provided an analysis of the rain-rate distribution in greater detail. However, the SSM/I algorithm underestimated the rain rates when compared to in situ techniques but appeared to be comparable to the rain rates obtained from other satellite-borne passive microwave radiometers.
The analysis of SSM/I observations found that more intense systems had higher rain rates, more latent heat release, and a greater contribution from heavier rain to the total tropical cyclone rainfall. In addition, regions with the heaviest rain rates were found near the center of the most intense tropical cyclones. Observational analysis from SSM/I also revealed that the greatest rain rates in the inner-core regions were found in the right half of fast-moving tropical cyclones, while the heaviest rain rates in slow-moving tropical cyclones were found in the forward half. The combination of SSM/I observations and an interpretation of numerical model simulations revealed that the correlation between changes in the inner core diabatic beating and the subsequent intensity become greater as the tropical cyclones became more intense.