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Michelle Mainelli
,
Mark DeMaria
,
Lynn K. Shay
, and
Gustavo Goni

Abstract

Research investigating the importance of the subsurface ocean structure on tropical cyclone intensity change has been ongoing for several decades. While the emergence of altimetry-derived sea height observations from satellites dates back to the 1980s, it was difficult and uncertain as to how to utilize these measurements in operations as a result of the limited coverage. As the in situ measurement coverage expanded, it became possible to estimate the upper oceanic heat content (OHC) over most ocean regions. Beginning in 2002, daily OHC analyses have been generated at the National Hurricane Center (NHC). These analyses are used qualitatively for the official NHC intensity forecast, and quantitatively to adjust the Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme (SHIPS) forecasts. The primary purpose of this paper is to describe how upper-ocean structure information was transitioned from research to operations, and how it is being used to generate NHC’s hurricane intensity forecasts. Examples of the utility of this information for recent category 5 hurricanes (Isabel, Ivan, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma from the 2003–05 hurricane seasons) are also presented. Results show that for a large sample of Atlantic storms, the OHC variations have a small but positive impact on the intensity forecasts. However, for intense storms, the effect of the OHC is much more significant, suggestive of its importance on rapid intensification. The OHC input improved the average intensity errors of the SHIPS forecasts by up to 5% for all cases from the category 5 storms, and up to 20% for individual storms, with the maximum improvement for the 72–96-h forecasts. The qualitative use of the OHC information on the NHC intensity forecasts is also described. These results show that knowledge of the upper-ocean thermal structure is fundamental to accurately forecasting intensity changes of tropical cyclones, and that this knowledge is making its way into operations. The statistical results obtained here indicate that the OHC only becomes important when it has values much larger than that required to support a tropical cyclone. This result suggests that the OHC is providing a measure of the upper ocean’s influence on the storm and improving the forecast.

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Mark DeMaria
,
Michelle Mainelli
,
Lynn K. Shay
,
John A. Knaff
, and
John Kaplan

Abstract

Modifications to the Atlantic and east Pacific versions of the operational Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme (SHIPS) for each year from 1997 to 2003 are described. Major changes include the addition of a method to account for the storm decay over land in 2000, the extension of the forecasts from 3 to 5 days in 2001, and the use of an operational global model for the evaluation of the atmospheric predictors instead of a simple dry-adiabatic model beginning in 2001.

A verification of the SHIPS operational intensity forecasts is presented. Results show that the 1997–2003 SHIPS forecasts had statistically significant skill (relative to climatology and persistence) out to 72 h in the Atlantic, and at 48 and 72 h in the east Pacific. The inclusion of the land effects reduced the intensity errors by up to 15% in the Atlantic, and up to 3% in the east Pacific, primarily for the shorter-range forecasts. The inclusion of land effects did not significantly degrade the forecasts at any time period. Results also showed that the 4–5-day forecasts that began in 2001 did not have skill in the Atlantic, but had some skill in the east Pacific.

An experimental version of SHIPS that included satellite observations was tested during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. New predictors included brightness temperature information from Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) channel 4 (10.7 μm) imagery, and oceanic heat content (OHC) estimates inferred from satellite altimetry observations. The OHC estimates were only available for the Atlantic basin. The GOES data significantly improved the east Pacific forecasts by up to 7% at 12–72 h. The combination of GOES and satellite altimetry improved the Atlantic forecasts by up to 3.5% through 72 h for those storms west of 50°W.

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Edward N. Rappaport
,
James L. Franklin
,
Andrea B. Schumacher
,
Mark DeMaria
,
Lynn K. Shay
, and
Ethan J. Gibney

Abstract

Tropical cyclone intensity change remains a forecasting challenge with important implications for such vulnerable areas as the U.S. coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Analysis of 1979–2008 Gulf tropical cyclones during their final two days before U.S. landfall identifies patterns of behavior that are of interest to operational forecasters and researchers. Tropical storms and depressions strengthened on average by about 7 kt for every 12 h over the Gulf, except for little change during their final 12 h before landfall. Hurricanes underwent a different systematic evolution. In the net, category 1–2 hurricanes strengthened, while category 3–5 hurricanes weakened such that tropical cyclones approach the threshold of major hurricane status by U.S. landfall. This behavior can be partially explained by consideration of the maximum potential intensity modified by the environmental vertical wind shear and hurricane-induced sea surface temperature reduction near the storm center associated with relatively low oceanic heat content levels. Linear least squares regression equations based on initial intensity and time to landfall explain at least half the variance of the hurricane intensity change. Applied retrospectively, these simple equations yield relatively small forecast errors and biases for hurricanes. Characteristics of most of the significant outliers are explained and found to be identifiable a priori for hurricanes, suggesting that forecasters can adjust their forecast procedures accordingly.

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