Marine Science Faculty Publications

Variability of Tropical Cyclone Rapid Intensification in the North Atlantic and Its Relationship with Climate Variations

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climate variability, hurricane activity, tropical cyclones

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The paper uses observational data from 1950 to 2014 to investigate rapid intensification (RI) variability of tropical cyclones (TCs) in the North Atlantic and its relationships with large-scale climate variations. RI is defined as a TC intensity increase of at least 15.4 m/s (30 knots) in 24 h. The seasonal RI distribution follows the seasonal TC distribution, with the highest number in September. Although an RI event can occur anywhere over the tropical North Atlantic (TNA), there are three regions of maximum RI occurrence: (1) the western TNA of 12°N–18°N and 60°W–45°W, (2) the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean Sea, and (3) the open ocean southeast and east of Florida. RI events also show a minimum value in the eastern Caribbean Sea north of South America—a place called a hurricane graveyard due to atmospheric divergence and subsidence. On longer time scales, RI displays both interannual and multidecadal variability, but RI does not show a long-term trend due to global warming. The top three climate indices showing high correlations with RI are the June-November ENSO and Atlantic warm pool indices, and the January-March North Atlantic oscillation index. It is found that variabilities of vertical wind shear and TC heat potential are important for TC RI in the hurricane main development region, whereas relative humidity at 500 hPa is the main factor responsible for TC RI in the eastern TNA. However, the large-scale oceanic and atmospheric variables analyzed in this study do not show an important role in TC RI in the Gulf of Mexico and the open ocean southeast and east of Florida. This suggests that other factors such as small-scale changes of oceanic and atmospheric variables or TC internal processes may be responsible for TC RI in these two regions. Additionally, the analyses indicate that large-scale atmospheric and oceanic variables are not critical to TC genesis and formation; however, once a tropical depression forms, large-scale climate variations play a role in TC intensification.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Climate Dynamics, v. 49, issue 11-12, p. 3627-3645