9A.3 Tropical cyclogenesis in a tropical wave critical layer: Easterly waves

Wednesday, 30 April 2008: 8:30 AM
Palms GF (Wyndham Orlando Resort)
Timothy J. Dunkerton, NorthWest Research Associates, Bellevue, WA; and M. T. Montgomery and Z. Wang

The development of tropical depressions within tropical waves over the Atlantic and eastern Pacific is usually preceded by a “surface low along the wave” as if to suggest a hybrid wave-vortex structure in which flow streamlines not only undulate with the waves, but form a closed circulation in the lower troposphere surrounding the low. The meridional extent of the recirculation is determined by the amplitude of the vorticity enclosed in relation to that of the easterly jet on which the wave resides. This structure resembles the familiar critical layer of waves in shear flow, a flow configuration which arguably provides the simplest conceptual framework for tropical cyclogenesis resulting from tropical waves, their interaction with the mean flow, and with diabatic processes associated with deep moist convection. The critical layer represents a sweet spot for tropical cyclogenesis in which a proto-vortex may form and grow within its parent wave. The wave and vortex live together for a time, and initially propagate at the same speed. In most cases this coupled propagation continues for a few days after a tropical depression is identified. For easterly waves, as the name suggests, the propagation is westward. It is shown that in order to visualize optimally this “marsupial paradigm” one should view the flow streamlines, or stream function, in a frame of reference translating horizontally with the phase propagation of the parent wave. This translation requires an appropriate “gauge” that renders translating streamlines and isopleths of translating stream function approximately equivalent to flow trajectories. In the translating frame, the closed circulation is stationary, and a dividing streamline effectively separates air within the critical layer from air outside. The critical layer equatorward of the easterly jet axis is important to tropical cyclogenesis because it provides (i) a region of cyclonic vorticity and weak strain by the resolved flow, (ii) containment of moisture entrained by the gyre and/or lofted by deep convection therein, (iii) confinement of mesoscale vortex aggregation, (iv) a predominantly convective type of heating profile, and (v) maintenance or enhancement of the parent wave until the vortex becomes a self-sustaining entity and emerges from the wave as a tropical depression. A survey of 55 named tropical storms in 1998-2001 reveals that actual critical layers sometimes resemble the ideal east-west train of cat's eyes, but are usually less regular, with one or more recirculation regions in the translating frame. It is shown that a “wave gauge” given by the translation speed of the parent wave is the appropriate choice, as well, for isolated proto-vortices carried by the wave. Some implications for entrainment/containment of vorticity and moisture in the cat's eye are discussed from this perspective, based on the observational survey.
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