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James P. Kossin, Brian D. McNoldy, and Wayne H. Schubert

Abstract

A collection of images depicting various swirling patterns within low-level cloud decks in hurricane eyes is presented and described. A possible causal mechanism for the presence of these cloud patterns is suggested by comparison of the observed cloud patterns with the evolution of passive tracers in a simple 2D barotropic model. The model is initialized with a barotropically unstable flow field that imitates the observed flows in hurricanes, and numerical integration of this field simulates vigorous mixing between eye and eyewall. During the mixing process, passive tracers initially embedded in the flow form swirling patterns in the eye that are strikingly similar to cloud patterns often observed in the eyes of hurricanes.

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Christopher Velden, Timothy Olander, Derrick Herndon, and James P. Kossin

Abstract

In recent years, a number of extremely powerful tropical cyclones have revived community debate on methodologies used to estimate the lifetime maximum intensity (LMI) of these events. And how do these storms rank historically? In this study, the most updated version of an objective satellite-based intensity estimation algorithm [advanced Dvorak technique (ADT)] is employed and applied to the highest-resolution (spatial and temporal) geostationary satellite data available for extreme-intensity tropical cyclones that occurred during the era of these satellites (1979–present). Cases with reconnaissance aircraft observations are examined and used to calibrate the ADT at extreme intensities. Bias corrections for observing properties such as satellite viewing angle and image spatiotemporal resolution, and storm characteristics such as small eye size are also considered.

The results of these intensity estimates (maximum sustained 1-min wind) show that eastern North Pacific Hurricane Patricia (2015) ranks as the strongest storm in any basin (182 kt), followed by western North Pacific Typhoons Haiyan (2013), Tip (1979), and Gay (1992). The following are the strongest classifications in other basins—Atlantic: Gilbert (1988), north Indian Ocean basin: Paradip (1999), south Indian Ocean: Gafilo (2004), Australian region: Monica (2006), and southeast Pacific basin: Pam (2015). In addition, ADT LMI estimates for four storms exceed the maximum allowable limit imposed by the operational Dvorak technique. This upper bound on intensity may be an unnatural constraint, especially if tropical cyclones get stronger in a warmer biosphere as some theorize. This argues for the need of an extension to the Dvorak scale to allow higher intensity estimates.

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James P. Kossin, Wayne H. Schubert, and Michael T. Montgomery

Abstract

Intense tropical cyclones often exhibit concentric eyewall patterns in their radar reflectivity. Deep convection within the inner, or primary, eyewall is surrounded by a nearly echo-free moat, which in turn is surrounded by an outer, or secondary ring of deep convection. Both convective regions typically contain well-defined tangential wind maxima. The primary wind maximum is associated with large vorticity just inside the radius of maximum wind, while the secondary wind maximum is usually associated with relatively enhanced vorticity embedded in the outer ring. In contrast, the moat is a region of low vorticity. If the vorticity profile across the eye and inner eyewall is approximated as monotonic, the resulting radial profile of vorticity still satisfies the Rayleigh necessary condition for instability as the radial gradient twice changes sign.

Here the authors investigate the stability of such structures and, in the case of instability, simulate the nonlinear evolution into a more stable structure using a nondivergent barotropic model. Because the radial gradient of vorticity changes sign twice, two types of instability and vorticity rearrangement are identified: 1) instability across the outer ring of enhanced vorticity, and 2) instability across the moat. Type 1 instability occurs when the outer ring of enhanced vorticity is sufficiently narrow and when the circulation of the central vortex is sufficiently weak (compared to the outer ring) that it does not induce enough differential rotation across the outer ring to stabilize it. The nonlinear mixing associated with type 1 instability results in a broader and weaker vorticity ring but still maintains a significant secondary wind maximum. The central vortex induces strong differential rotation (and associated enstrophy cascade) in the moat region, which then acts as a barrier to inward mixing of small (but finite) amplitude asymmetric vorticity disturbances. Type 2 instability occurs when the radial extent of the moat is sufficiently narrow so that unstable interactions may occur between the central vortex and the inner edge of the ring. Because the vortex-induced differential rotation across the ring is large when the ring is close to the vortex, type 2 instability typically precludes type 1 instability except in the case of very thin rings. The nonlinear mixing from type 2 instability perturbs the vortex into a variety of shapes. In the case of contracting rings of enhanced vorticity, the vortex and moat typically evolve into a nearly steady tripole structure, thereby offering a mechanism for the formation and persistence of elliptical eyewalls.

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John A. Knaff, James P. Kossin, and Mark DeMaria

Abstract

This study introduces and examines a symmetric category of tropical cyclone, which the authors call annular hurricanes. The structural characteristics and formation of this type of hurricane are examined and documented using satellite and aircraft reconnaissance data. The formation is shown to be systematic, resulting from what appears to be asymmetric mixing of eye and eyewall components of the storms involving either one or two possible mesovortices. Flight-level thermodynamic data support this contention, displaying uniform values of equivalent potential temperature in the eye, while the flight-level wind observations within annular hurricanes show evidence that mixing inside the radius of maximum wind likely continues. Intensity tendencies of annular hurricanes indicate that these storms maintain their intensities longer than the average hurricane, resulting in larger-than-average intensity forecast errors and thus a significant intensity forecasting challenge. In addition, these storms are found to exist in a specific set of environmental conditions, which are only found 3% and 0.8% of the time in the east Pacific and Atlantic tropical cyclone basins during 1989–99, respectively. With forecasting issues in mind, two methods of objectively identifying these storms are also developed and discussed.

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Stephanie C. Herring, Martin P. Hoerling, James P. Kossin, Thomas C. Peterson, and Peter A. Stott
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Stephanie C. Herring, Martin P. Hoerling, James P. Kossin, Thomas C. Peterson, and Peter A. Stott

Editors note: For easy download the posted pdf of the Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 is a very low-resolution file. A high-resolution copy of the report is available by clicking here. Please be patient as it may take a few minutes for the high-resolution file to download.

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Stephanie C. Herring, Martin P. Hoerling, James P. Kossin, Thomas C. Peterson, and Peter A. Stott
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Eric A. Hendricks, Wayne H. Schubert, Richard K. Taft, Huiqun Wang, and James P. Kossin

Abstract

The asymmetric dynamics of potential vorticity mixing in the hurricane inner core are further advanced by examining the end states that result from the unforced evolution of hurricane-like vorticity rings in a nondivergent barotropic model. The results from a sequence of 170 numerical simulations are summarized. The sequence covers a two-dimensional parameter space, with the first parameter defining the hollowness of the vortex (i.e., the ratio of eye to inner-core relative vorticity) and the second parameter defining the thickness of the ring (i.e., the ratio of the inner and outer radii of the ring). In approximately one-half of the cases, the ring becomes barotropically unstable, and there ensues a vigorous vorticity mixing episode between the eye and eyewall. The output of the barotropic model is used to (i) verify that the nonlinear model approximately replicates the linear theory of the fastest-growing azimuthal mode in the early phase of the evolution, and (ii) characterize the end states (defined at t = 48 h) that result from the nonlinear chaotic vorticity advection and mixing. It is found that the linear stability theory is a good guide to the fastest-growing exponential mode in the numerical model. Two additional features are observed in the numerical model results. The first is an azimuthal wavenumber-2 deformation of the vorticity ring that occurs for moderately thick, nearly filled rings. The second is an algebraically growing wavenumber-1 instability (not present in the linear theory because of the assumed solution) that is observed as a wobbling eye (or the trochoidal oscillation for a moving vortex) for thick rings that are stable to all exponentially growing instabilities. Most end states are found to be monopoles. For very hollow and thin rings, persistent mesovortices may exist for more than 15 h before merging to a monopole. For thicker rings, the relaxation to a monopole takes longer (between 48 and 72 h). For moderately thick rings with nearly filled cores, the most likely end state is an elliptical eyewall. In this nondivergent barotropic context, both the minimum central pressure and maximum tangential velocity simultaneously decrease over 48 h during all vorticity mixing events.

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Carl J. Schreck III, Lei Shi, James P. Kossin, and John J. Bates

Abstract

The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and convectively coupled equatorial waves are the dominant modes of synoptic-to-subseasonal variability in the tropics. These systems have frequently been examined with proxies for convection such as outgoing longwave radiation (OLR). However, upper-tropospheric water vapor (UTWV) gives a more complete picture of tropical circulations because it is more sensitive to the drying and warming associated with subsidence. Previous studies examined tropical variability using relatively short (3–7 yr) UTWV datasets. Intersatellite calibration of data from the High Resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder (HIRS) has recently produced a homogeneous 32-yr climate data record of UTWV for 200–500 hPa. This study explores the utility of HIRS UTWV for identifying the MJO and equatorial waves.

Spectral analysis shows that the MJO and equatorial waves stand out above the low-frequency background in UTWV, similar to previous findings with OLR. The fraction of variance associated with the MJO and equatorial Rossby waves is actually greater in UTWV than in OLR. Kelvin waves, on the other hand, are overshadowed in UTWV by horizontal advection from extratropical Rossby waves.

For the MJO, UTWV identifies subsidence drying in the subtropics, poleward of the convection. These dry anomalies are associated with the MJO’s subtropical Rossby gyres. MJO events with dry anomalies over the central North Pacific Ocean also amplify the 200-hPa flow pattern over North America 7 days later. These events cannot be identified using equatorial OLR alone, which demonstrates that UTWV is a useful supplement for identifying the MJO, equatorial waves.

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Christopher M. Rozoff, Wayne H. Schubert, Brian D. McNoldy, and James P. Kossin

Abstract

Intense tropical cyclones often possess relatively little convection around their cores. In radar composites, this surrounding region is usually echo-free or contains light stratiform precipitation. While subsidence is typically quite pronounced in this region, it is not the only mechanism suppressing convection. Another possible mechanism leading to weak-echo moats is presented in this paper. The basic idea is that the strain-dominated flow surrounding an intense vortex core creates an unfavorable environment for sustained deep, moist convection. Strain-dominated regions of a tropical cyclone can be distinguished from rotation-dominated regions by the sign of S 2 1 + S 2 2ζ 2, where S 1 = uxυy and S 2 = υx + uy are the rates of strain and ζ = υxuy is the relative vorticity. Within the radius of maximum tangential wind, the flow tends to be rotation-dominated (ζ 2 > S 2 1 + S 2 2), so that coherent structures, such as mesovortices, can survive for long periods of time. Outside the radius of maximum tangential wind, the flow tends to be strain-dominated (S 2 1 + S 2 2 > ζ 2), resulting in filaments of anomalous vorticity. In the regions of strain-dominated flow the filamentation time is defined as τ fil = 2(S 2 1 + S 2 2ζ 2)−1/2. In a tropical cyclone, an approximately 30-km-wide annular region can exist just outside the radius of maximum tangential wind, where τ fil is less than 30 min and even as small as 5 min. This region is defined as the rapid filamentation zone. Since the time scale for deep moist convective overturning is approximately 30 min, deep convection can be significantly distorted and even suppressed in the rapid filamentation zone. A nondivergent barotropic model illustrates the effects of rapid filamentation zones in category 1–5 hurricanes and demonstrates the evolution of such zones during binary vortex interaction and mesovortex formation from a thin annular ring of enhanced vorticity.

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