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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

The advent of the polar front theory of cyclones in Norway early in the last century held that the development of fronts and air masses is central to understanding midlatitude weather phenomena. While work on fronts continues to this day, the concept of air masses has been largely forgotten, superseded by the idea of a continuum. The Norwegians placed equal emphasis on the thermodynamics of airmass formation and on the dynamical processes that moved air masses around; today, almost all the emphasis is on dynamics, with little published literature on diabatic processes acting on a large scale. In this essay, the author argues that a lack of understanding of large-scale diabatic processes leads to an incomplete picture of the atmosphere and contributes to systematic errors in medium- and long-range weather forecasts. At the same time, modern concepts centered around potential vorticity conservation and inversion lead one to a redefinition of the term "air mass" that may have some utility in conceptualizing atmospheric physics and in weather forecasting.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

A recently developed linear model of eastward-propagating disturbances has two separate unstable modes: convectively coupled Kelvin waves destabilized by the wind dependence of the surface enthalpy flux, and slow, MJO-like modes destabilized by cloud–radiation interaction and driven eastward by surface enthalpy fluxes. This latter mode survives the weak temperature gradient (WTG) approximation and has a time scale dictated by the time it takes for surface fluxes to moisten tropospheric columns. Here we extend that model to include higher-order modes and show that planetary-scale low-frequency waves with more complex structures can also be amplified by cloud–radiation interactions. While most of these waves survive the WTG approximation, their frequencies and growth rates are seriously compromised by that approximation. Applying instead the assumption of zonal geostrophy results in a better approximation to the full spectrum of modes. For small cloud–radiation and surface flux feedbacks, Kelvin waves and equatorial Rossby waves are destabilized, but when these feedbacks are strong enough, the frequencies do not lie close to classical equatorial dispersion curves except in the case of higher-frequency Kelvin and Yanai waves. An eastward-propagating n = 1 mode, in particular, has a structure resembling the observed structure of the MJO.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

Hurricane intensity is sensitive to fluxes of enthalpy and momentum between the ocean and atmosphere in the high wind core of the storm. It has come to be recognized that much of this exchange is likely mediated by sea spray. A number of representations of spray-mediated exchange have appeared in recent years, but when these are applied in numerical simulations of hurricanes, storm intensity proves sensitive to the details of these representations. Here it is proposed that in the limit of very high wind speed, the air–sea transition layer becomes self-similar, permitting deductions about air–sea exchange based on scaling laws. In particular, it is hypothesized that exchange coefficients based on the gradient wind speed should become independent of wind speed in the high wind limit. A mechanistic argument suggests that the enthalpy exchange coefficient should depend on temperature. These propositions are tested in a hurricane intensity prediction model and can, in principle, be tested in the field.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

Revised estimates of kinetic energy production by tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and western North Pacific are presented. These show considerable variability on interannual-to-multidecadal time scales. In the Atlantic, variability on time scales of a few years and more is strongly correlated with tropical Atlantic sea surface temperature, while in the western North Pacific, this correlation, while still present, is considerably weaker. Using a combination of basic theory and empirical statistical analysis, it is shown that much of the variability in both ocean basins can be explained by variations in potential intensity, low-level vorticity, and vertical wind shear. Potential intensity variations are in turn factored into components related to variations in net surface radiation, thermodynamic efficiency, and average surface wind speed.

In the Atlantic, potential intensity, low-level vorticity, and vertical wind shear strongly covary and are also highly correlated with sea surface temperature, at least during the period in which reanalysis products are considered reliable. In the Pacific, the three factors are not strongly correlated. The relative contributions of the three factors are quantified, and implications for future trends and variability of tropical cyclone activity are discussed.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

Hurricane track forecasts have improved steadily over the past few decades, yet forecasting hurricane intensity remains challenging. Of special concern are the rare instances of tropical cyclones that intensify rapidly just before landfall, catching forecasters and populations off guard, thereby risking large casualties. Here, we review two historical examples of such events and use scaling arguments and models to show that rapid intensification just before landfall is likely to become increasingly frequent and severe as the globe warms.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

While many studies of the effects of global warming on hurricanes predict an increase in various metrics of Atlantic basin-wide activity, it is less clear that this signal will emerge from background noise in measures of hurricane damage, which depend largely on rare, high-intensity landfalling events and are thus highly volatile compared to basin-wide storm metrics. Using a recently developed hurricane synthesizer driven by large-scale meteorological variables derived from global climate models, 1000 artificial 100-yr time series of Atlantic hurricanes that make landfall along the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts are generated for four climate models and for current climate conditions as well as for the warmer climate of 100 yr hence under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions scenario A1b. These synthetic hurricanes damage a portfolio of insured property according to an aggregate wind-damage function; damage from flooding is not considered here. Assuming that the hurricane climate changes linearly with time, a 1000-member ensemble of time series of property damage was created. Three of the four climate models used produce increasing damage with time, with the global warming signal emerging on time scales of 40, 113, and 170 yr, respectively. It is pointed out, however, that probabilities of damage increase significantly well before such emergence time scales and it is shown that probability density distributions of aggregate damage become appreciably separated from those of the control climate on time scales as short as 25 yr. For the fourth climate model, damages decrease with time, but the signal is weak.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

A century ago, meteorologists regarded tropical cyclones as shallow vortices, extending upward only a few kilometers into the troposphere, and nothing was known about their physics save that convection was somehow involved. As recently as 1938, a major hurricane struck the densely populated northeastern United States with no warning whatsoever, killing hundreds. In the time since the American Meteorological Society was founded, however, tropical cyclone research blossomed into an endeavor of great breadth and depth, encompassing fields ranging from atmospheric and oceanic dynamics to biogeochemistry, and the precision and scope of forecasts and warnings have achieved a level of success that would have been regarded as impossible only a few decades ago. This chapter attempts to document the extraordinary progress in tropical cyclone research over the last century and to suggest some avenues for productive research over the next one.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

Tropical cyclone activity has long been understood to respond to changing properties of the large-scale atmospheric and oceanic environment. In this essay, evidence for changing tropical cyclone activity is reviewed, and the controversy surrounding the quality of the data itself and the attribution of these environmental changes to various natural and anthropogenic causes, is discussed. At the same time, there is growing evidence that global tropical cyclone activity may itself affect climate in such a way as to mitigate tropical climate change but amplify climate change at higher latitudes. This evidence is reviewed, and possible routes forward in exploring these effects are suggested.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

Recent work has highlighted the possible importance of changing upper-ocean thermal and density stratification on observed and projected changes in tropical cyclone activity. Here seven CMIP phase 5 (CMIP5)-generation climate model simulations are downscaled under IPCC representative concentration pathway 8.5 using a coupled atmosphere–ocean tropical cyclone model, generating 100 events per year in the western North Pacific from 2006 to 2100. A control downscaling in which the upper-ocean thermal structure is fixed at its monthly values in the year 2006 is compared to one in which the upper ocean is allowed to evolve, as derived from the CMIP5 models. As found in earlier work, the thermal stratification generally increases as the climate warms, leading to increased ocean mixing–induced negative feedback on tropical cyclone intensity. While trends in the frequency of storms are unaffected, the increasing stratification of the upper ocean leads to a 13% reduction in the increase of tropical cyclone power dissipation over the twenty-first century, averaged across the seven climate models. Much of this reduction is associated with a moderation of the increase in the frequency of category-5 storms.

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Kerry Emanuel

Abstract

While there is a pressing need to understand and predict the response of tropical cyclones to climate change, global climate models are at present too coarse to resolve tropical cyclones to the extent necessary to simulate their intensity, and their ability to simulate genesis is questionable. For these reasons, a “downscaling” approach to modeling the effect of climate change on tropical cyclones is desirable. Here a new approach to downscaling is introduced that consists of generating a large set of synthetic storm tracks whose statistics are consistent with the large-scale general circulation of the climate model, and then running a deterministic, coupled tropical cyclone model along each track, with atmospheric and upper-ocean thermodynamic conditions taken from the global climate model. As a first step in this direction, this paper explores the sensitivity of the intensity of a large sample of tropical cyclones to changes in potential intensity, shear, and ocean mixed layer depth, fixing other variables, including the space–time probability distribution of storm genesis. It is shown that a 10% increase in potential intensity leads to a 65% increase in the “power dissipation index,” a measure of the total amount of mechanical energy generated by tropical cyclones over their life spans. This is consistent with the observed increase of power dissipation over the past 50 yr. Storms are somewhat less influenced by equivalent fractional changes in environmental wind shear or ocean mixed layer depth.

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