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Michael T. Montgomery, Michael M. Bell, Sim D. Aberson, and Michael L. Black

This study is an observational analysis of the inner-core structure, sea surface temperature, outflow layer, and atmospheric boundary layer of an intense tropical cyclone whose intensity and structure is consistent with recent numerical and theoretical predictions of superintense storms. The findings suggest new scientific challenges for the current understanding of hurricanes.

Unprecedented observations of the category-5 Hurricane Isabel (2003) were collected during 12–14 September. This two-part article reports novel dynamic and thermodynamic aspects of the inner-core structure of Isabel on 13 September that were made possible by analysis of these data. Here, a composite of the axisymmetric structure of the inner core and environment of Isabel is estimated using global positioning system dropwindsondes and in situ aircraft data. In Part II, an extreme wind speed observation on the same day is discussed in the context of this work.

The axisymmetric data composite suggests a reservoir of high-entropy air inside the low-level eye and significant penetration of inflowing near-surface air from outside. The analysis suggests that the low-level air penetrating the eye is enhanced thermodynamically by acquiring additional entropy through interaction with the ocean and replaces air mixed out of the eye. The results support the hypothesis that this high-entropy eye air “turboboosts” the hurricane engine upon its injection into the eyewall clouds. Recent estimates of the ratio of sea-to-air enthalpy and momentum exchange at high wind speeds are used to suggest that Isabel utilized this extra power to exceed the previously assumed intensity upper bound by 10–35 m s−1 for the given environmental conditions. Additional study with other datasets is encouraged to further test the superintensity hypothesis.

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Sim D. Aberson, Sharanya J. Majumdar, Carolyn A. Reynolds, and Brian J. Etherton

Abstract

In 1997, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center and the Hurricane Research Division began operational synoptic surveillance missions with the Gulfstream IV-SP jet aircraft to improve the numerical guidance for hurricanes that threaten the continental United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. The dropwindsonde observations from these missions were processed and formatted aboard the aircraft and sent to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and the Global Telecommunications System to be ingested into the Global Forecasting System, which serves as initial and boundary conditions for regional numerical models that also forecast tropical cyclone track and intensity. As a result of limited aircraft resources, optimal observing strategies for these missions are investigated. An Observing System Experiment in which different configurations of the dropwindsonde data based on three targeting techniques (ensemble variance, ensemble transform Kalman filter, and total energy singular vectors) are assimilated into the model system was conducted. All three techniques show some promise in obtaining maximal forecast improvements while limiting flight time and expendables. The data taken within and around the regions specified by the total energy singular vectors provide the largest forecast improvements, though the sample size is too small to make any operational recommendations. Case studies show that the impact of dropwindsonde data obtained either outside of fully sampled, or within nonfully sampled target regions is generally, though not always, small; this suggests that the techniques are able to discern in which regions extra observations will impact the particular forecast.

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Robert W. Burpee, James L. Franklin, Stephen J. Lord, Robert E. Tuleya, and Sim D. Aberson

Since 1982, the Hurricane Research Division (HRD) has conducted a series of experiments with research aircraft to enhance the number of observations in the environment and the core of hurricanes threatening the United States. During these experiments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration WP-3D aircraft crews release Omega dropwindsondes (ODWs) at 15–20-min intervals along the flight track to obtain profiles of wind, temperature, and humidity between flight level and the sea surface. Data from the ODWs are transmitted back to the aircraft and then sent via satellite to the Tropical Prediction Center and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), where the observations become part of the operational database.

This paper tests the hypothesis that additional observations improve the objective track forecast models that provide operational guidance to the hurricane forecasters. The testing evaluates differences in forecast tracks from models run with and without the ODW data in a research mode at HRD, NCEP, and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. The middle- and lower-tropospheric ODW data produce statistically significant reductions in 12–60-h mean forecast errors. The error reductions, which range from 16% to 30%, are at least as large as the accumulated improvement in operational forecasts achieved over the last 20–25 years. This breakthrough provides strong experimental evidence that more comprehensive observations in the hurricane environment and core will lead to immediate improvements in operational forecast guidance.

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Altuğ Aksoy, Sim D. Aberson, Tomislava Vukicevic, Kathryn J. Sellwood, Sylvie Lorsolo, and Xuejin Zhang

Abstract

The Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) Ensemble Data Assimilation System (HEDAS) is developed to assimilate tropical cyclone inner-core observations for high-resolution vortex initialization. It is based on a serial implementation of the square root ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF). In this study, HWRF is used in an experimental configuration with horizontal grid spacing of 9 (3) km on the outer (inner) domain. HEDAS is applied to 83 cases from years 2008 to 2011. With the exception of two Hurricane Hilary (2011) cases in the eastern North Pacific basin, all cases are observed in the Atlantic basin. Observed storm intensity for these cases ranges from tropical depression to category-4 hurricane.

Overall, it is found that high-resolution tropical cyclone observations, when assimilated with an advanced data assimilation technique such as the EnKF, result in analyses of the primary circulation that are realistic in terms of intensity, wavenumber-0 radial structure, as well as wavenumber-1 azimuthal structure. Representing the secondary circulation in the analyses is found to be more challenging with systematic errors in the magnitude and depth of the low-level radial inflow. This is believed to result from a model bias in the experimental HWRF caused by the overdiffusive nature of the planetary boundary layer parameterization utilized. Thermodynamic deviations from the observed structure are believed to be caused by both an imbalance between the number of the kinematic and thermodynamic observations in general and the suboptimal ensemble covariances between kinematic and thermodynamic fields. Future plans are discussed to address these challenges.

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Sim D. Aberson, Altuğ Aksoy, Kathryn J. Sellwood, Tomislava Vukicevic, and Xuejin Zhang

Abstract

NOAA has been gathering high-resolution, flight-level dropwindsonde and airborne Doppler radar data in tropical cyclones for almost three decades; the U.S. Air Force routinely obtained the same type and quality of data, excepting Doppler radar, for most of that time. The data have been used for operational diagnosis and for research, and, starting in 2013, have been assimilated into operational regional tropical cyclone models. This study is an effort to quantify the impact of assimilating these data into a version of the operational Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model using an ensemble Kalman filter. A total of 83 cases during 2008–11 were investigated. The aircraft whose data were used in the study all provide high-density flight-level wind and thermodynamic observations as well as surface wind speed data. Forecasts initialized with these data assimilated are compared to those using the model standard initialization. Since only NOAA aircraft provide airborne Doppler radar data, these data are also tested to see their impact above the standard aircraft data. The aircraft data alone are shown to provide some statistically significant improvement to track and intensity forecasts during the critical watch and warning period before projected landfall (through 60 h), with the Doppler radar data providing some further improvement. This study shows the potential for improved forecasts with regular tropical cyclone aircraft reconnaissance and the assimilation of data obtained from them, especially airborne Doppler radar data, into the numerical guidance.

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Kun-Hsuan Chou, Chun-Chieh Wu, Po-Hsiung Lin, Sim D. Aberson, Martin Weissmann, Florian Harnisch, and Tetsuo Nakazawa

Abstract

The typhoon surveillance program Dropwindsonde Observations for Typhoon Surveillance near the Taiwan Region (DOTSTAR) has been conducted since 2003 to obtain dropwindsonde observations around tropical cyclones near Taiwan. In addition, an international field project The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) Pacific Asian Regional Campaign (T-PARC) in which dropwindsonde observations were obtained by both surveillance and reconnaissance flights was conducted in summer 2008 in the same region. In this study, the impact of the dropwindsonde data on track forecasts is investigated for DOTSTAR (2003–09) and T-PARC (2008) experiments. Two operational global models from NCEP and ECMWF are used to evaluate the impact of dropwindsonde data. In addition, the impact on the two-model mean is assessed.

The impact of dropwindsonde data on track forecasts is different in the NCEP and ECMWF model systems. Using the NCEP system, the assimilation of dropwindsonde data leads to improvements in 1- to 5-day track forecasts in about 60% of the cases. The differences between track forecasts with and without the dropwindsonde data are generally larger for cases in which the data improved the forecasts than in cases in which the forecasts were degraded. Overall, the mean 1- to 5-day track forecast error is reduced by about 10%–20% for both DOTSTAR and T-PARC cases in the NCEP system. In the ECMWF system, the impact is not as beneficial as in the NCEP system, likely because of more extensive use of satellite data and more complex data assimilation used in the former, leading to better performance even without dropwindsonde data. The stronger impacts of the dropwindsonde data are revealed for the 3- to 5-day forecast in the two-model mean of the NCEP and ECMWF systems than for each individual model.

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Chun-Chieh Wu, Kun-Hsuan Chou, Po-Hsiung Lin, Sim D. Aberson, Melinda S. Peng, and Tetsuo Nakazawa

Abstract

Starting from 2003, a new typhoon surveillance program, Dropwindsonde Observations for Typhoon Surveillance near the Taiwan Region (DOTSTAR), was launched. During 2004, 10 missions for eight typhoons were conducted successfully with 155 dropwindsondes deployed. In this study, the impact of these dropwindsonde data on tropical cyclone track forecasts has been evaluated with five models (four operational and one research models). All models, except the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) hurricane model, show the positive impact that the dropwindsonde data have on tropical cyclone track forecasts. During the first 72 h, the mean track error reductions in the National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s (NCEP) Global Forecast System (GFS), the Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System (NOGAPS) of the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC), and the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) Global Spectral Model (GSM) are 14%, 14%, and 19%, respectively. The track error reduction in the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, in which the initial conditions are directly interpolated from the operational GFS forecast, is 16%. However, the mean track improvement in the GFDL model is a statistically insignificant 3%. The 72-h-average track error reduction from the ensemble mean of the above three global models is 22%, which is consistent with the track forecast improvement in Atlantic tropical cyclones from surveillance missions. In all, despite the fact that the impact of the dropwindsonde data is not statistically significant due to the limited number of DOTSTAR cases in 2004, the overall added value of the dropwindsonde data in improving typhoon track forecasts over the western North Pacific is encouraging. Further progress in the targeted observations of the dropwindsonde surveillances and satellite data, and in the modeling and data assimilation system, is expected to lead to even greater improvement in tropical cyclone track forecasts.

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Sim D. Aberson, Michael L. Black, Robert A. Black, Robert W. Burpee, Joseph J. Cione, Christopher W. Landsea, and Frank D. Marks Jr.

In 1976 and 1977, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration purchased two customized WP-3D (P-3) aircraft to conduct tropical cyclone (TC) research. During their first 30 years, the P-3s have proved to be invaluable research platforms, obtaining data at the micro- to synoptic scale, with missions conducted in 134 TCs in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans and near Australia. Analyses of the observations led to many new insights about TC structure, dynamics, thermodynamics, and environmental interactions. The real-time use of the information by the National Hurricane and Environmental Modeling Centers of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), as well as later research, has helped to increase the accuracy of wind, flood, and storm surge forecasts and severe weather warnings and has resulted in significant improvements to operational numerical model guidance for TC-track forecasts. In commemoration of the first 30 years of research with these aircraft, this manuscript presents a brief overview of the instrumentation aboard the aircraft and the major research findings during this period.

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Robert F. Rogers, Sim Aberson, Michael M. Bell, Daniel J. Cecil, James D. Doyle, Todd B. Kimberlain, Josh Morgerman, Lynn K. Shay, and Christopher Velden

Abstract

Hurricane Patricia was a historic tropical cyclone that broke many records, such as intensification rate, peak intensity, and overwater weakening rate, during its brief 4-day lifetime in late October 2015 in the eastern Pacific basin. Patricia confounded all of the intensity forecast guidance owing to its rapid intensity changes. Fortunately, the hurricane-penetrating National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration WP-3D and U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration WB-57 high-altitude jet, under support of the Office of Naval Research, conducted missions through and over Patricia prior to and during its extreme intensity changes on all 4 days, while an extensive array of pressure sensors sampled Patricia after landfall. The observations collected from these missions include traditional data sources such as airborne Doppler radar and flight-level instruments as well as new data sources like a high-density array of dropsondes released from high-altitude and wide-swath radiometer. The combination of data from these sources and from satellites provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the physical processes responsible for Patricia’s structure and evolution and offers the potential to improve forecasts of tropical cyclone rapid intensity changes. This paper provides an overview of Patricia as well as the data collected during the aircraft missions.

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Robert W. Burpee, Sim D. Aberson, Peter G. Black, Mark DeMaria, James L. Franklin, Joseph S. Griffin, Samuel H. Houston, John Kaplan, Stephen J. Lord, Frank D. Marks Jr., Mark D. Powell, and Hugh E. Willoughby

The Hurricane Research Division (HRD) is NOAA's primary component for research on tropical cyclones. In accomplishing research goals, many staff members have developed analysis procedures and forecast models that not only help improve the understanding of hurricane structure, motion, and intensity change, but also provide operational support for forecasters at the National Hurricane Center (NHC). During the 1993 hurricane season, HRD demonstrated three important real-time capabilities for the first time. These achievements included the successful transmission of a series of color radar reflectivity images from the NOAA research aircraft to NHC, the operational availability of objective mesoscale streamline and isotach analyses of a hurricane surface wind field, and the transition of the experimental dropwindsonde program on the periphery of hurricanes to a technology capable of supporting operational requirements. Examples of these and other real-time capabilities are presented for Hurricane Emily.

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