Abstract

Tropical cyclogenesis in the eastern North Pacific (EPAC) basin is related to gap-wind-induced surface relative vorticity, the monsoon trough, and the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). There are several gaps in the Central American mountains, on the eastern edge of the EPAC basin, through which wind can be funneled to generate surface wind jets (gap winds). This study focuses on gap winds that occur over the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec. Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) 10-m equivalent neutral winds are used to identify gap wind events that occur during May through November of 2002–08. Dvorak fix locations, Gridded Satellite (GridSat) infrared (IR) data, and National Hurricane Center (NHC) tropical cyclone (TC) reports are used to track the disturbances during the study period. Surface vorticity is tracked using the QuikSCAT winds and the contribution of surface vorticity from the gap winds to the development of each disturbance is categorized as small, medium, or large. Cross-calibrated multiplatform surface wind data are used to verify the tracking of QuikSCAT-computed surface vorticity and to identify when the monsoon trough and the ITCZ are present. It is found that gap winds are present over the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec for about 50% of the QuikSCAT coverage days and that these gap winds appear to contribute to the development of disturbances in the EPAC. Considerably more TCs form when the monsoon trough is present versus the ITCZ and the majority of the contributions from the gap winds also occur when the monsoon trough is present.

1. Introduction

The circumstances under which a tropical cyclone (TC) forms are still a highly debated and not well-understood topic within the field of meteorology. Many theories exist for tropical cyclone formation, such as conditional instability of the second kind (CISK; Charney and Eliassen 1964; Ooyama 1964) and wind-induced surface heat exchange (WISHE; Emanuel 1986; Emanuel et al. 1994). In CISK and WISHE, which are both “bottom up” theories, the feedback loop begins at the surface. Other bottom-up theories involve low-level cyclonic relative vorticity (hereafter simply referred to as vorticity) maxima, induced by convection, that merge over time to create a larger low-level cyclonic vorticity maximum (Montgomery and Enagonio 1998; Enagonio and Montgomery 2001). “Top down” theories (Ritchie and Holland 1997; Simpson et al. 1997) also exist. According to these theories, mesoscale convective vortices produce a midlevel cyclonic vorticity maximum that enhances the low-level cyclonic vorticity. Although none of these theories can completely explain tropical cyclogenesis, they all propose that there must be an initial region of low-level, or surface, cyclonic vorticity present. An increased understanding of tropical cyclogenesis would allow forecasters to more accurately predict which disturbances will develop into TCs and improve the general knowledge about TCs.

This study focuses on tropical cyclogenesis in the eastern North Pacific (EPAC) basin. This basin is unique in that it has the highest density of TC formation of all of the tropical cyclone basins (Renard and Bowman 1976). It has been suggested that most of the TCs that form in the EPAC originate from tropical disturbances formed in the Atlantic basin or from easterly waves that traverse the Atlantic Ocean (Avila 1991; Avila and Pasch 1992; Shapiro 1986). In this model, some of the disturbances or easterly waves that do not generate TCs in the Atlantic propagate into the EPAC. However, there is another unique feature to this basin, which is the presence of the Central American mountains on the western edge of the basin. This mountain range has peak elevations of 2000–3000 m and several mountain gaps (Fig. 1) where the elevation reaches only about 250 m (Steenburgh et al. 1998). This study aims to determine how surface vorticity generated by winds funneled through the gaps in the Central American mountains, creating a surface wind jet (gap winds) over the Gulf of Papagayo and the Gulf of Tehuantepec, influences the development of TCs in the EPAC.

Fig. 1.

Topographical map depicting the mountain gaps in the Central American mountains (Chelton et al. 2000). Red circles indicate the mountain gaps and the black arrows indicate the direction of the flow through the gaps of interest to this study.

Fig. 1.

Topographical map depicting the mountain gaps in the Central American mountains (Chelton et al. 2000). Red circles indicate the mountain gaps and the black arrows indicate the direction of the flow through the gaps of interest to this study.

Many of the previous studies related to this topic have investigated how the Central American mountains interact with African easterly waves, the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), and the monsoon trough. Studies using computer models found that flow incident on terrain similar to the Central American mountains is deflected around the mountains and through the gaps, generating cyclonic surface vorticity in the lee of the mountains (Mozer and Zehnder 1996; Zehnder 1991; Zehnder and Gall 1991). Other studies have used a combination of computer models and reanalysis data to look at specific TCs to determine how the mountains influenced their development (Farfàn and Zehnder 1997; Zehnder and Powell 1999). These studies found that cyclonic surface vorticity occurring in the presence of an easterly wave, the ITCZ, or the monsoon trough could lead to the development of a TC. Reanalysis data also used to complete another case study showed enhanced low-level flow through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that occurred ahead of a 700-mb African easterly wave (Molinari et al. 2000). However, without any observational data available for verification, Molinari et al. could only hypothesize that when the 700-mb wave moved westward into the EPAC, it coupled with the cyclonic surface vorticity generated by the wind jet through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to initiate cyclogenesis.

These previous studies focused on the gap winds generated through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and did not consider how gap winds generated over the Gulf of Papagayo might contribute to tropical cyclogenesis in the EPAC. The data to confirm the theories from the previous studies were also limited, mainly to ship and buoy observations, prior to the launch of the Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) in 1999. The QuikSCAT remotely sensed wind data tremendously increased the spatial and temporal coverage of surface winds over the oceans. There are two objectives for this study: 1) to use QuikSCAT wind data to determine how gap-wind-induced surface vorticity over the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec contribute to tropical cyclogenesis in the EPAC and 2) to determine how the ITCZ and the monsoon trough interact with the gap winds to influence tropical cyclogenesis in the EPAC.

Two case studies, Hurricane Celia (2004) and Hurricane John (2006), are used to illustrate and discuss the methods and the results of the study. Section 2 discusses the data and the process for identifying gap winds and summarizes the gap wind events that occurred from May to November of 2002–08. Next, the process for tracking the disturbances is presented in section 3, followed by a description of the method for calculating and tracking the propagation of surface vorticity (section 4). In section 5, the propagation of surface vorticity seen in QuikSCAT is verified using cross-calibrated multiplatform (CCMP) wind data. A description of gap wind contribution categories and a summary of the contributions follow in section 6. Section 7 contains a comparison between the occurrence of gap wind contributions, the monsoon trough, and the ITCZ. The conclusions are given in section 8.

2. Identifying gap wind events

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL’s) 12.5-km version 3 QuikSCAT wind product (Fore et al. 2014) is used to analyze surface wind and vorticity fields over the EPAC. This dataset includes an improved algorithm for retrieving wind measurements in rain-contaminated regions as well as in rain-free areas, which greatly reduces the noise in the surface vorticity fields. SeaWinds on QuikSCAT was a Ku-band scatterometer that provided surface vector wind data from 19 July 1999 to 23 November 2009. It had an 1800-km-wide, single swath and a repeat period of approximately 4 days (Huddleston and Spencer 2001), providing approximately twice-daily coverage at a given location (Fig. 2). The actual sampling pattern is less regular (Schlax et al. 2001), particularly at the latitudes of the Central American gaps. Data in the wind product include time, latitude, longitude, surface wind speed (10-m equivalent neutral; Kara et al. 2008), wind direction, and a rain flag.

Fig. 2.

Example of daily coverage by QuikSCAT.

Fig. 2.

Example of daily coverage by QuikSCAT.

To investigate the impact of the gap winds on tropical cyclogenesis, it is first necessary to identify when the gap wind events occurred. For gap winds to be present there must be enhanced northerly winds over the Gulf of Tehuantepec or enhanced easterly winds over the Gulf of Papagayo that create a surface wind jet with a fanlike pattern. A method for automating the detection of the gap wind events is developed in which thresholds for spatial coverage, wind speed, and wind direction must be met. The thresholds are maximized for each gulf to minimize the false detection of nongap wind events such as the presence of rain-contaminated vectors. For the Gulf of Tehuantepec, the median wind direction must fall between 310° and 60° (meteorological convention). The median wind direction for the Gulf of Papagayo must fall between 18° and 110°. The peak wind speed for each of these gap wind events is then determined by identifying the 90th percentile wind speed out of all of the values in the specified region for the given overpass. The median wind speed threshold for the Gulf of Tehuantepec is 3.9 m s−1 and for the Gulf of Papagayo the threshold is 4.0 m s−1. After the automated detection process is completed, a visual inspection is performed to eliminate the remaining nongap wind events.

The distribution of the peak wind speed of the gap winds for each gulf (Fig. 3) is used to categorize the gap wind events. Figure 3 shows that there is a larger spread in the peak wind speeds of the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds than in the Gulf of Papagayo gap winds. Also, the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds are typically stronger than the Gulf of Papagayo gap winds. The median peak gap wind speed for the Gulf of Tehuantepec is approximately 11.7 m s−1 whereas the median peak gap wind speed for the Gulf of Papagayo is approximately 8.9 m s−1. There are four categories (weak, moderate, strong, and very strong; Fig. 4) of gap wind strengths determined for each gulf that contain 25% of the gap wind events. The category thresholds are given in Table 1.

Fig. 3.

Distribution of gap wind event peak wind speeds (black line) for (a) the Gulf of Papagayo and (b) the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The green line indicates the 25th percentile wind speed, the red line indicates the median wind speed, and the blue line indicates the 75th percentile wind speed.

Fig. 3.

Distribution of gap wind event peak wind speeds (black line) for (a) the Gulf of Papagayo and (b) the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The green line indicates the 25th percentile wind speed, the red line indicates the median wind speed, and the blue line indicates the 75th percentile wind speed.

Fig. 4.

Examples of (a) a weak and (b) a moderate gap wind event over the Gulf of Papagayo and (c) a strong and (d) a very strong gap wind event over the Gulf of Tehuantepec.

Fig. 4.

Examples of (a) a weak and (b) a moderate gap wind event over the Gulf of Papagayo and (c) a strong and (d) a very strong gap wind event over the Gulf of Tehuantepec.

Table 1.

Wind speed threshold values of weak, moderate, strong, and very strong gap wind events for the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec.

Wind speed threshold values of weak, moderate, strong, and very strong gap wind events for the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec.
Wind speed threshold values of weak, moderate, strong, and very strong gap wind events for the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec.

QuikSCAT coverage exists for the Gulf of Papagayo for about 86% or 1290 of the 1498 days in this study whereas the QuikSCAT coverage of the Gulf of Tehuantepec is significantly better at about 97% (1446 days). Table 2 summarizes the number of gap wind events that occurred over the Gulf of Papagayo and the Gulf of Tehuantepec during the months of May–November for the period of 2002–08. This table shows that the gap winds are present over the Gulf of Papagayo for about 53% of the QuikSCAT coverage days and over the Gulf of Tehuantepec for about 49% of the QuikSCAT coverage days. Previous studies have developed climatologies using 25- and 12.5-km JPL v2 QuikSCAT winds (Brennan et al. 2010; Cobb et al. 2002) for gale-force (34 kt or ~17.5 m s−1) or stronger gap wind events for the Gulf of Tehuantepec, events that primarily occur during the winter months. Therefore, the summary of gap wind events developed for this study provides insight into the summer gap winds in this region.

Table 2.

Summary of the total number of gap wind events for May–November of 2002–08. The columns give the number of days that gap winds are present for each year for both gulfs and the total number of days (percentage of days) having QuikSCAT coverage for each Gulf.

Summary of the total number of gap wind events for May–November of 2002–08. The columns give the number of days that gap winds are present for each year for both gulfs and the total number of days (percentage of days) having QuikSCAT coverage for each Gulf.
Summary of the total number of gap wind events for May–November of 2002–08. The columns give the number of days that gap winds are present for each year for both gulfs and the total number of days (percentage of days) having QuikSCAT coverage for each Gulf.

3. Track disturbances

Storm-track information for this study is obtained from two sources. Dvorak fix locations, based on the Dvorak (1984) technique, for all named tropical cyclones, disturbances, and invests for each hurricane season in the EPAC basin from 2002 to 2008, are retrieved from the Dvorak Fix Archive (Cossuth et al. 2013). Unique system ID code, tropical cyclone name, fix latitude, fix longitude, fix time, hours prior to cyclogenesis, and Dvorak current intensity number (Dvorak 1984) are among the variables included in these data. Dvorak fix locations are often available prior to classification by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which aids in tracking the disturbances. The Dvorak fix locations for Hurricane Celia and Hurricane John are given in Fig. 5. The second source of track information is TC reports from the NHC (www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastall.shtml#tcr; Avila et al. 2006; Pasch et al. 2009). The TC reports contain information on the development of the TCs along with the times at which any sort of disturbance, such as an easterly wave, may have crossed the Central American mountains and led to the development of the storm.

Fig. 5.

Dvorak fix locations for (a) Hurricane Celia beginning at 0000 UTC 18 Jul 2004, and (b) Hurricane John beginning at 0000 UTC 25 Aug 2006. The L indicates the location where each storm became a depression. Locations where they became tropical storms and hurricanes are denoted by their respective symbols.

Fig. 5.

Dvorak fix locations for (a) Hurricane Celia beginning at 0000 UTC 18 Jul 2004, and (b) Hurricane John beginning at 0000 UTC 25 Aug 2006. The L indicates the location where each storm became a depression. Locations where they became tropical storms and hurricanes are denoted by their respective symbols.

With the information provided by the Dvorak Fix Archive and the NHC TC reports, it is possible to track the disturbances between QuikSCAT overpasses using Gridded Satellite (GridSat) infrared (IR) data to track the cloud clusters. The GridSat IR data, a composite product of IR data from global geostationary satellites (Knapp et al. 2011), are provided by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The dataset has 8-km spatial grid spacing and 3-h temporal spacing. Tracking the cloud clusters allows for the timing and location of the disturbance to be confirmed in the QuikSCAT surface vorticity plots. Using the tracks of the disturbances, the TC reports, and the GridSat IR data make it possible to locate and track the precursor disturbances with a good degree of confidence.

The GridSat IR imagery shows the propagation of the disturbances that developed into Hurricane Celia (Fig. 6) and Hurricane John (Fig. 7). Hurricane Celia was classified as a tropical depression at 0000 UTC 19 July 2004. Using the Dvorak fix locations and the GridSat IR imagery, the disturbance that developed into Celia is tracked back to Central America where it emerged in the EPAC on 11 July 2004. Hurricane John was classified by the NHC as a tropical depression at 0000 UTC 28 August 2006. Dvorak fix locations begin at 0000 UTC 25 August 2006. Examination of the GridSat IR imagery reveals that the disturbance that developed into John entered the EPAC on 24 August 2006.

Fig. 6.

GridSat IR imagery showing the progression of the disturbance that develops into Hurricane Celia. Yellow circles indicate the location of the disturbances at each time shown. Red dots indicate the Dvorak fix location of the disturbances for times that fix locations exist. The spatial region for each panel is 5°S–30°N, 60°–130°W.

Fig. 6.

GridSat IR imagery showing the progression of the disturbance that develops into Hurricane Celia. Yellow circles indicate the location of the disturbances at each time shown. Red dots indicate the Dvorak fix location of the disturbances for times that fix locations exist. The spatial region for each panel is 5°S–30°N, 60°–130°W.

Fig. 7.

As in Fig. 6, but for Hurricane John.

Fig. 7.

As in Fig. 6, but for Hurricane John.

After determining the time that the disturbances are near each of the gaps, it is possible to observe whether gap winds are present. For cases in which there is limited coverage by QuikSCAT, CCMP wind data (discussed in section 5) is used to determine if there was a gap wind event present. An overpass by QuikSCAT at 1100 UTC 11 July 2004 (Fig. 8), as Hurricane Celia was entering the EPAC near the Gulf of Papagayo, reveals that strong gap winds are present over the Gulf of Papagayo. There is also an overpass by QuikSCAT at 1200 UTC 13 July 2004 (Fig. 8) when Celia’s disturbance is to the south of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This overpass shows the presence of very strong gap winds over the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Rain contamination is present to the south of the Tehuantepec gap wind jet, which is identified by the presence of the very strong across-swath wind vectors. This rain contamination is one of the drawbacks to using QuikSCAT winds and must be considered when analyzing the surface vorticity computed from the wind vectors. For Hurricane John, an overpass by QuikSCAT at 1200 UTC 24 August 2006 (Fig. 8) shows that moderate gap winds are present over the Gulf of Papagayo and very strong westerly winds are present to the south. In section 7, evidence is provided that these westerly winds are due to the presence of the monsoon trough. Also, there are no gap winds present over the Gulf of Tehuantepec as John passed by on 27 August 2006.

Fig. 8.

Plots of wind vectors displaying the gap wind events that influenced the development of (a),(b) Hurricane Celia at 12.5-km grid spacing and (c) Hurricane John at 25-km grid spacing. The black line in (c) indicates the track of Hurricane John.

Fig. 8.

Plots of wind vectors displaying the gap wind events that influenced the development of (a),(b) Hurricane Celia at 12.5-km grid spacing and (c) Hurricane John at 25-km grid spacing. The black line in (c) indicates the track of Hurricane John.

4. Vorticity

For this study we ignore the diabatic and baroclinic vorticity generation mechanisms and focus on the adiabatic and barotropic mechanisms through which the gap winds generate surface vorticity. There are three general mechanisms (Fig. 9) by which the structure of the gap winds can generate surface vorticity. The first mechanism is through horizontal shear. The strength of the gap winds and their fanlike pattern create a shear in the surface wind field. For the Northern Hemisphere (NH), if the jet is oriented as shown in Fig. 9, positive or cyclonic vorticity is generated on the eastern side of the jet and negative or anticyclonic vorticity is created on the western side. The second way that the gap winds can generate surface vorticity is through the addition of curvature in the jet. In the NH, if the jet curves to the east as in Fig. 9, the positive vorticity on the eastern side of the jet is enhanced while the negative vorticity on the western side is slightly reduced. Finally, the presence of westerly winds due to the monsoon trough south of the gap wind jet can also enhance the positive vorticity on the southern side of the jet in the NH as displayed in Fig. 9. If the jet is also curved while the monsoon trough is present, this vorticity can be further enhanced.

Fig. 9.

Vorticity mechanisms for the gap wind jets. Black arrows indicate wind vectors. Red circular arrows with a plus sign in the middle indicate regions of positive vorticity and blue circular arrows with a negative sign in the middle indicate regions of negative vorticity for the NH.

Fig. 9.

Vorticity mechanisms for the gap wind jets. Black arrows indicate wind vectors. Red circular arrows with a plus sign in the middle indicate regions of positive vorticity and blue circular arrows with a negative sign in the middle indicate regions of negative vorticity for the NH.

Once the gap wind events are identified, plots of area-averaged surface relative vorticity (hereafter referred to as average vorticity) are created from the QuikSCAT winds. The average vorticity calculation is adapted from the work of Bourassa and McBeth-Ford (2010). This calculation uses the circulation theorem to compute the circulation around a “shape,” which is then divided by the area of the shape to give the average vorticity at the center of the shape. The shape used for the area averaging is dependent upon the diameter chosen, which is a multiple of the distance between adjacent wind vectors (12.5 km). A shape with a diameter of 12.5 km will be a square and a shape with a diameter of 25 km will be a diamond. When considering shapes with diameters equal to an odd number of adjacent wind vector cells (12.5, 37.5, 62.5 km, …) or an even number (25, 50, 75 km, …), the shape will become more circular as the diameter increases (Fig. 10). As the shape becomes more circular the random error is reduced in the average vorticity calculation. A diameter of 50 km is used in this study to decrease the amount of noise present in the average vorticity plots while still allowing the vorticity to be tracked. In calculating the circulation about the shape, a spline fit is used to interpolate between adjacent good wind vectors. This is a slight improvement to the calculation of Bourassa and McBeth-Ford (2010) who used a linear interpolation. Also, if there are too many points (>20%; Bourassa and McBeth-Ford 2010) missing around the circumference of the shape, the average vorticity is set to missing.

Fig. 10.

Shapes for diameters of (a) 12.5, (b) 25, (c) 37.5, and (d) 50 km (Bourassa and McBeth-Ford 2010). The bold lines show the perimeter of the shape.

Fig. 10.

Shapes for diameters of (a) 12.5, (b) 25, (c) 37.5, and (d) 50 km (Bourassa and McBeth-Ford 2010). The bold lines show the perimeter of the shape.

Average vorticity calculated from the QuikSCAT overpass of Hurricane Celia’s disturbance at 1100 UTC 11 July 2004 shows that the gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo generate a region of positive surface vorticity that is subsequently tracked in the QuikSCAT overpasses (Fig. 11). Even with the presence of rain contamination near the Tehuantepec gap wind jet at 1200 UTC 13 July 2004, positive surface vorticity generated by the gap winds is observed (Fig. 11). This positive surface vorticity created by the Tehuantepec gap winds appears to then propagate toward the disturbance and add to its positive surface vorticity. For Hurricane John, the average vorticity calculated from the QuikSCAT overpass at 1200 UTC 24 August 2006 reveals that significant positive surface vorticity is present on the south side of the Gulf of Papagayo gap wind jet (Fig. 12). The contrast between the easterly Papagayo gap wind jet and the westerly winds to the south amplifies the amount and strength of positive surface vorticity generated by the gap winds. This initial positive surface vorticity is tracked as it develops into Hurricane John (Fig. 12).

Fig. 11.

Swaths of surface vorticity from QuikSCAT showing the progression of the surface vorticity that is tracked as the disturbance develops into Hurricane Celia. Reds indicate positive surface vorticity and blues indicate negative surface vorticity. The spatial region for each panel is 0°–25°N, 70°–120°W. Black circles indicate the location of the disturbance based on the GridSat IR imagery whereas black dots indicate the Dvorak fix location of the disturbance for times that fix locations are available.

Fig. 11.

Swaths of surface vorticity from QuikSCAT showing the progression of the surface vorticity that is tracked as the disturbance develops into Hurricane Celia. Reds indicate positive surface vorticity and blues indicate negative surface vorticity. The spatial region for each panel is 0°–25°N, 70°–120°W. Black circles indicate the location of the disturbance based on the GridSat IR imagery whereas black dots indicate the Dvorak fix location of the disturbance for times that fix locations are available.

Fig. 12.

As in Fig. 11, but for Hurricane John.

Fig. 12.

As in Fig. 11, but for Hurricane John.

5. Verification of QuikSCAT vorticity using CCMP

Because of the limited temporal coverage of the disturbances by QuikSCAT and rain contamination influences on QuikSCAT, the CCMP ocean surface wind data record is used for verification to confirm the propagation of the surface vorticity seen in the QuikSCAT overpasses. CCMP combines cross-calibrated wind speeds from three microwave radiometer sensors, cross-calibrated wind speeds and directions from two scatterometers, and ship and buoy wind data with background winds from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) to produce an ocean surface wind (10 m) data record on a 0.25° latitude–longitude grid (Atlas et al. 2011). This dataset has 6-h temporal spacing, which allows for tracking the propagation of the surface vorticity in between overpasses of the disturbances by QuikSCAT.

Latitude-averaged (7°–17°N) Hovmöller diagrams of CCMP surface vorticity are created to observe whether the surface vorticity is propagating. These Hovmöller diagrams have longitude on the x axis and time, increasing from bottom to top, on the y axis. Regions of positive surface vorticity oriented from the bottom right to the top left indicate that the positive surface vorticity is propagating from east to west. The surface vorticity for the disturbance that developed into Hurricane Celia can be tracked in the Hovmöller diagram of CCMP latitude-averaged surface vorticity (Fig. 13). This Hovmöller diagram further suggests that the surface vorticity generated by the Papagayo gap winds on 11 July 2004 and by the Tehuantepec gap winds on 13 July 2004 contributed to Celia’s surface vorticity. A noteworthy feature on this Hovmöller diagram is that the dipole of surface vorticity generated by the Tehuantepec gap winds on 13 July 2004 is seen as a disruption in the propagation of the positive surface vorticity. It is unclear exactly how the negative surface vorticity of this dipole influences the development of the disturbance due to the lack of temporal resolution. However, it does appear as though the positive surface vorticity of the disturbance continues to propagate eastward after the interaction. For Hurricane John, the Hovmöller diagram of CCMP latitude-averaged surface vorticity (Fig. 13) also confirms that the surface vorticity created by the Papagayo gap wind jet on 24 August 2006, propagates westward as Hurricane John develops. This diagram also shows that some positive surface vorticity was present near the longitude of the Gulf of Papagayo on 23 August 2006. This surface vorticity is not as significant as that present on 24 August 2006, and there is no coverage of the region by QuikSCAT on 23 August to verify either the source or the magnitude of this surface vorticity. Also worth mentioning is that surface divergence fields calculated from CCMP (not shown) identify corresponding regions of convergence (divergence) with positive (negative) surface vorticity.

Fig. 13.

Hovmöller diagram of CCMP surface vorticity averaged over 7°–17°N (a) from 10 Jul to 19 Jul 2004 for Hurricane Celia and (b) from 23 Aug to 30 Aug 2006 for Hurricane John. Vertical black lines denote the longitudes of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Gulf of Papagayo. The black lines beginning at 18 Jul 2004 and 25 Aug 2006 show Dvorak fix locations for Celia and John, respectively.

Fig. 13.

Hovmöller diagram of CCMP surface vorticity averaged over 7°–17°N (a) from 10 Jul to 19 Jul 2004 for Hurricane Celia and (b) from 23 Aug to 30 Aug 2006 for Hurricane John. Vertical black lines denote the longitudes of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Gulf of Papagayo. The black lines beginning at 18 Jul 2004 and 25 Aug 2006 show Dvorak fix locations for Celia and John, respectively.

6. Gap wind contributions

To quantify the contributions of the Papagayo and Tehuantepec gap winds to the development of each of the systems investigated in this study, three contribution categories are developed. The gap winds are said to make a large contribution to the development of the disturbance 1) if they produce cyclonic surface vorticity that visually appears to provide the largest source of surface vorticity for the initial disturbance or 2) if the gap winds are present with westerly winds to their south creating the largest source of surface vorticity (Fig. 14). A medium contribution occurs if the gap winds visually appear to produce surface vorticity that contributes to the initial disturbance along with another significant source not associated with the gap winds (Fig. 14). Finally, the gap winds are categorized as making a small contribution to the development if they visually appear to contribute surface vorticity to an existing region of positive surface vorticity after development begins (Fig. 14).

Fig. 14.

Sample QuikSCAT average vorticity plots indicating (a) a large contribution from Gulf of Papagayo gap winds, (b) medium contribution from Gulf of Papagayo gap winds, and (c) a small contribution from Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds. Reds indicate positive average vorticity and blues indicate negative average vorticity.

Fig. 14.

Sample QuikSCAT average vorticity plots indicating (a) a large contribution from Gulf of Papagayo gap winds, (b) medium contribution from Gulf of Papagayo gap winds, and (c) a small contribution from Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds. Reds indicate positive average vorticity and blues indicate negative average vorticity.

For Hurricane Celia, there is no other initial source of positive surface vorticity, other than that produced by the Papagayo gap winds, when the disturbance first entered the EPAC. Therefore, it is determined that the gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo make a large contribution to the development of Hurricane Celia. The gap winds over the Gulf of Tehuantepec create surface vorticity that contributes to the development of Celia after the initial surface vorticity is generated and thus make a small contribution. In the case of Hurricane John, the Hovmöller diagram of CCMP surface vorticity averaged over 7°–17°N (Fig. 13) confirms that the initial surface vorticity generated by the Papagayo gap winds and the westerly winds develops into John. Therefore, the Gulf of Papagayo gap wind event is determined to make a large contribution to the development of Hurricane John.

Table 3 gives the number of systems (TCs and invests) that have small, medium, large, or no contribution from the gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec for each year in this study. Overall, the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) gap winds contributed to the surface vorticity of 84 (43) of the 191 storm systems investigated. The majority of the systems with contributions from the gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo fall within the medium and large contribution categories whereas the majority of contributions from the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds fall within the small contribution category. Over the seven years included in this study, 107 (148) systems had no contribution from the Papagayo (Tehuantepec) gap winds.

Table 3.

Summary of the number of systems (TCs and invests) to which gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) make small, medium, large, or no contribution to their development, for each year in this study. The total number of storms for each year along with the total number of storms that had small, medium, large, or no contribution by the gap winds is also shown.

Summary of the number of systems (TCs and invests) to which gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) make small, medium, large, or no contribution to their development, for each year in this study. The total number of storms for each year along with the total number of storms that had small, medium, large, or no contribution by the gap winds is also shown.
Summary of the number of systems (TCs and invests) to which gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) make small, medium, large, or no contribution to their development, for each year in this study. The total number of storms for each year along with the total number of storms that had small, medium, large, or no contribution by the gap winds is also shown.

7. Monsoon trough and ITCZ interactions

As discussed in section 6, the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds contribute to surface vorticity as disturbances develop into invests or TCs. However, the presence of gap winds alone is not a sufficient indicator of whether a disturbance will develop. Gap winds are present over both gulfs for about 50% of the QuikSCAT coverage days investigated, but invests and TCs do not occur every time these gap winds are observed. To gain a better understanding of the gap winds’ role in the development of the systems, their contributions are evaluated in terms of coincidence with the monsoon trough and the ITCZ. Figure 15 shows a general schematic of the ITCZ and the monsoon trough. The ITCZ occurs when the northeast trade winds from the NH converge with the southeast trade winds from the Southern Hemisphere (SH) whereas the monsoon trough occurs because of a convergence of the NH northeast trades and the monsoon southwesterlies.

Fig. 15.

Generalized illustration of the wind patterns that create (a) the ITCZ and (b) the monsoon trough.

Fig. 15.

Generalized illustration of the wind patterns that create (a) the ITCZ and (b) the monsoon trough.

To observe when the monsoon trough or ITCZ is present, longitude-averaged Hovmöller diagrams of the CCMP zonal wind component are examined. These plots average the zonal wind component from 80° to 140°W; latitude is on the x axis and time, increasing from the bottom to the top, is on the y axis. Positive values indicate that westerly winds are the dominant zonal wind direction and negative values indicate that easterly winds are dominant. Strong westerly winds (average zonal wind speed ≥2 m s−1) indicate that the monsoon trough is present whereas weak westerlies (0 m s−1 ≤ average zonal wind speed < 2 m s−1) or easterlies indicate the ITCZ is more prominent. Latitude positions of the storm tracks are then plotted over the Hovmöller diagrams to compare the presence of the monsoon trough or the ITCZ with storm occurrences and the contribution that the gap winds make to the development of each storm. The dates when gap winds are present are also plotted on these diagrams for comparison. The Hovmöller diagram of longitude-averaged CCMP zonal wind component for August 2006 (Fig. 16) suggests that the westerly winds observed south of the Papagayo gap wind event on 24 August 2006, are associated with the presence of the monsoon trough. The CCMP longitude-averaged zonal wind Hovmöller diagram for September 2006 is also shown in Fig. 16. These diagrams show that the majority of the storms that occurred during August and September 2006 developed while the monsoon trough was present.

Fig. 16.

Hovmöller diagram of CCMP zonal wind averaged over 80°–140°W for (a) August 2006 and (b) September 2006. Vertical black lines denote the latitudes of the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec and thick black line segments indicate the presence of gap winds over each gulf. The green line beginning at 25 Aug 2006 shows Dvorak fix latitudes for Hurricane John while the gray lines indicate the Dvorak fix latitudes of other TCs that developed during August and September 2006. Blues indicate westerly winds and reds indicate easterly winds.

Fig. 16.

Hovmöller diagram of CCMP zonal wind averaged over 80°–140°W for (a) August 2006 and (b) September 2006. Vertical black lines denote the latitudes of the Gulf of Papagayo and Gulf of Tehuantepec and thick black line segments indicate the presence of gap winds over each gulf. The green line beginning at 25 Aug 2006 shows Dvorak fix latitudes for Hurricane John while the gray lines indicate the Dvorak fix latitudes of other TCs that developed during August and September 2006. Blues indicate westerly winds and reds indicate easterly winds.

A summary of the number of TCs that have contributions from the Gulf of Papagayo and the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds while 1) strong westerly winds (monsoon trough) are present or 2) weak westerly or easterly winds (ITCZ) are present is given in Table 4. A total of 118 TCs occurred over the 7 yr of this study, and 98 of these TCs occurred while the monsoon trough was present. The Gulf of Papagayo gap winds contribute to 44 of these 98 TCs and the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds contribute to 20. It is hypothesized that the proximity and alignment of the Gulf of Papagayo with the monsoon trough is the main reason that the Gulf of Papagayo gap winds contribute to significantly more TCs when the monsoon trough is present compared to the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds. When the westerlies are weak or the ITCZ becomes more prominent, only 20 TCs are observed. Gulf of Papagayo gap winds contribute to the development of 14 of these storms and Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds contribute to 9.

Table 4.

Summary of the number of TCs that occurred while strong westerlies (monsoon trough) were present or weak westerlies or easterlies (ITCZ) were present along with the contribution from the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) gap winds.

Summary of the number of TCs that occurred while strong westerlies (monsoon trough) were present or weak westerlies or easterlies (ITCZ) were present along with the contribution from the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) gap winds.
Summary of the number of TCs that occurred while strong westerlies (monsoon trough) were present or weak westerlies or easterlies (ITCZ) were present along with the contribution from the Gulf of Papagayo (Gulf of Tehuantepec) gap winds.

8. Conclusions

This study provides an insight into the summer gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. It is found that gap winds occur for about 50% of the QuikSCAT coverage days for both gaps. These gap winds are also found to generate positive surface vorticity that appears to contribute to the formation of TCs in the EPAC. Gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo contribute to approximately 44% (49%) of the storm systems (TCs) investigated and the Gulf of Tehuantepec gap winds contribute to approximately 23% (25%) of the storm systems (TCs) investigated. The majority of the storms with contributions from the Papagayo gap winds fall within the medium or large contribution categories whereas the majority of the contributions by the Tehuantepec gap winds fall in the small contribution category. Additionally, the location at which a system is classified as a TC is not an indication of whether gap winds may have contributed to the development of the disturbance.

The larger influence of the gap winds over the Gulf of Papagayo is a new result that has not been observed in the EPAC prior to this study. Previous studies have focused on the influence that Tehuantepec gap winds have on cyclogenesis in this region and not on the influence of the Papagayo gap winds. The proximity and alignment of the Papagayo gap winds to the monsoon trough westerlies is the most likely reason that they appear to have a larger influence on cyclogenesis in the EPAC. Approximately 76% (44/58) of the TCs with contributions from the Papagayo gap winds occurred while the monsoon trough was present and approximately 69% (20/29) of the TCs with contributions from the gap winds over the Gulf of Tehuantepec occurred while the monsoon trough was present. Only 20 out of 118 TCs formed when the westerly winds were weak or when the ITCZ was present. This suggests that the presence of the monsoon trough creates a much more favorable environment for cyclogenesis and that surface vorticity generated by the gap winds appears to make the environment even more favorable for development. However, it should be noted that the presence of the gap winds themselves is not sufficient for cyclogenesis to occur because gap winds are present far more often than cyclogenesis occurs.

Although the gap winds appear to contribute to cyclogenesis in the EPAC, it is difficult to say how large this contribution is. Because of the number of storms that fall within the small and medium contribution categories, for both gap wind regions, it appears that cyclogenesis is influenced by the gap-wind-induced, low-level surface vorticity combining with a large-scale feature such as the monsoon trough or the ITCZ. As noted by many of the previous studies and NHC TC reports (www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastall.shtml#tcr), African easterly waves might also play a large role in EPAC tropical cyclogenesis and thus would be another large-scale feature worth investigating in the future. African easterly waves provide one of many possible future research topics that could be conducted to confirm the actual role that the gap winds play in cyclogenesis in the EPAC. A coordinated dropsonde study (i.e., Helms and Hart 2013) could be used to examine changes in the vertical structure of vorticity. Taking a more detailed look into the proximity and alignment of each of the gaps with the monsoon trough could provide more understanding as to why it appears that the Papagayo gap winds contribute more often. Also, connecting the surface vorticity with features at mid- and upper levels could help to determine why the surface vorticity generated by the gap winds is not sufficient itself for cyclogenesis to occur.

Acknowledgments

We thank NASA OVWST for funding this research as well as John Molinari and John Knaff for their helpful comments.

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