Vertical Motion Characteristics of Tropical Cyclones Determined with Airborne Doppler Radial Velocities

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  • 1 Hurricane Research Division, NOAA/AOML, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

Vertical motions in seven Atlantic hurricanes are determined from data recorded by Doppler radars on research aircraft. The database consists of Doppler velocities and reflectivities from vertically pointing radar rays collected along radial flight legs through the hurricane centers. The vertical motions are estimated throughout the depth of the troposphere from the Doppler velocities and bulk estimates of particle fallspeeds.

Portions of the flight tracks are subjectively divided into eyewall, rainband, stratiform, and “other” regions. Characteristics of the vertical velocity and radar structure are described as a function of altitude for the entire dataset and each of the four regions. In all of the regions, more than 70% of the vertical velocities range from −2 to 2 m s−1. The broadest distribution of vertical motion is in the eyewall region where ∼5% of the vertical motions are >5 m s−1. Averaged over the entire dataset, the mean vertical velocity is upward at all altitudes. Mean downward motion occurs only in the lower troposphere of the stratiform region. Significant vertical variations in the mean profiles of vertical velocity and reflectivity are discussed and related to microphysical processes.

In the lower and middle troposphere, the characteristics of the Doppler-derived vertical motions are similar to those described in an earlier study using flight-level vertical velocities, even though the horizontal resolution of the Doppler data is ∼750 m compared to ∼125 m from the in situ flight-level measurements. The Doppler data are available at higher altitudes than those reached by turboprop aircraft and provide information on vertical as well as horizontal variations. In a vertical plane along the radial flight tracks, Doppler up- and downdrafts are defined at each 300-m altitude interval as vertical velocities whose absolute values continuously exceed 1.5 m s−1, with at least one speed having an absolute value greater than 3.0 m s−1. The properties of the Doppler drafts are lognormally distributed. In each of the regions, updrafts outnumber downdrafts by at least a factor of 2 and updrafts are wider and stronger than downdrafts. Updrafts in the eyewall slope radially outward with height and are significantly correlated over larger radial and vertical extents than in the other three regions. If the downwind (tangential) slope with height of updrafts varies little among the regions, updrafts capable of transporting air with relatively large moist static energy from the boundary layer to the upper troposphere are primarily in the eyewall region. Downdrafts affect a smaller vertical and horizontal area than updrafts and have no apparent radial slope.

The total upward or downward mass flux is defined as the flux produced by all of the upward or downward Doppler vertical velocities. The maximum upward mass flux in all but the “other” region is near 1-km altitude, an indication that boundary-layer convergence is efficient in producing upward motion. Above the sea surface, the downward mass flux decreases with altitude. At every altitude, the total net mass flux is upward, except for the lower troposphere in the stratiform region where it is downward. Doppler-derived up- and downdrafts are a subset of the vertical velocity field that occupy small fractions of the total area, yet they contribute a substantial fraction to the total mass flux. In the eyewall and rainband regions, for example, the Doppler updrafts cover less than 30% of the area but are responsible for >75% and >50% to the total upward mass flux, respectively. The Doppler downdrafts typically encompass less than 10% of the area yet provide ∼50% of the total downward mass flux in the eyewall and ∼20% of the total downward flux in the rainband, stratiform, and “other” regions.

Abstract

Vertical motions in seven Atlantic hurricanes are determined from data recorded by Doppler radars on research aircraft. The database consists of Doppler velocities and reflectivities from vertically pointing radar rays collected along radial flight legs through the hurricane centers. The vertical motions are estimated throughout the depth of the troposphere from the Doppler velocities and bulk estimates of particle fallspeeds.

Portions of the flight tracks are subjectively divided into eyewall, rainband, stratiform, and “other” regions. Characteristics of the vertical velocity and radar structure are described as a function of altitude for the entire dataset and each of the four regions. In all of the regions, more than 70% of the vertical velocities range from −2 to 2 m s−1. The broadest distribution of vertical motion is in the eyewall region where ∼5% of the vertical motions are >5 m s−1. Averaged over the entire dataset, the mean vertical velocity is upward at all altitudes. Mean downward motion occurs only in the lower troposphere of the stratiform region. Significant vertical variations in the mean profiles of vertical velocity and reflectivity are discussed and related to microphysical processes.

In the lower and middle troposphere, the characteristics of the Doppler-derived vertical motions are similar to those described in an earlier study using flight-level vertical velocities, even though the horizontal resolution of the Doppler data is ∼750 m compared to ∼125 m from the in situ flight-level measurements. The Doppler data are available at higher altitudes than those reached by turboprop aircraft and provide information on vertical as well as horizontal variations. In a vertical plane along the radial flight tracks, Doppler up- and downdrafts are defined at each 300-m altitude interval as vertical velocities whose absolute values continuously exceed 1.5 m s−1, with at least one speed having an absolute value greater than 3.0 m s−1. The properties of the Doppler drafts are lognormally distributed. In each of the regions, updrafts outnumber downdrafts by at least a factor of 2 and updrafts are wider and stronger than downdrafts. Updrafts in the eyewall slope radially outward with height and are significantly correlated over larger radial and vertical extents than in the other three regions. If the downwind (tangential) slope with height of updrafts varies little among the regions, updrafts capable of transporting air with relatively large moist static energy from the boundary layer to the upper troposphere are primarily in the eyewall region. Downdrafts affect a smaller vertical and horizontal area than updrafts and have no apparent radial slope.

The total upward or downward mass flux is defined as the flux produced by all of the upward or downward Doppler vertical velocities. The maximum upward mass flux in all but the “other” region is near 1-km altitude, an indication that boundary-layer convergence is efficient in producing upward motion. Above the sea surface, the downward mass flux decreases with altitude. At every altitude, the total net mass flux is upward, except for the lower troposphere in the stratiform region where it is downward. Doppler-derived up- and downdrafts are a subset of the vertical velocity field that occupy small fractions of the total area, yet they contribute a substantial fraction to the total mass flux. In the eyewall and rainband regions, for example, the Doppler updrafts cover less than 30% of the area but are responsible for >75% and >50% to the total upward mass flux, respectively. The Doppler downdrafts typically encompass less than 10% of the area yet provide ∼50% of the total downward mass flux in the eyewall and ∼20% of the total downward flux in the rainband, stratiform, and “other” regions.

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