1.3 Central American Gyres, Tropical Cyclones, and Heavy Eastern U.S. Rainfall

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 9:00 AM
Room 4ABC (Austin Convention Center)
Lance F. Bosart, University at Albany/SUNY, Albany, NY; and K. S. Griffin, P. P. Papin, and R. D. Torn

Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences University at Albany/SUNY 1400 Washington Avenue Albany, NY 12222

Between late summer and mid-autumn, broad low-level cyclonic circulations with spatial scales of 1000-2000 km can develop over Central America on time scales of 1-2 days and persist for 3-5 days. These broad cyclonic circulation regions, which hereafter we will call gyres, can absorb westward-moving tropical cyclones (TCs) from the east (e.g., Matthew in September 2010), disgorge cyclonic circulations to the northeast that later develop into TCs (e.g., Nicole in September 2010), interact with remnant southward-moving cold fronts to encourage weak TC development (e.g., TC Nate in October 2011), or enable weak eastern Pacific tropical depressions (TDs) to make landfall in Central America (e.g., TD 12-E in October 2011). A distinguishing feature of a Central American gyre is that it can be directly associated with exceptionally heavy rainfall and damaging regional flooding, such as occurred in conjunction with the landfall of TD 12-E and TC Nate. Similarly, a deep poleward tropical moisture transport from a Central American gyre in response to amplified midlatitude flow can lead to flooding rains in midlatitudes such as occurred along the Atlantic coast in conjunction with TC Lee in September 2011.

This presentation will focus on the large-scale flow contribution to the formation of a well-defined Central American gyre in late September 2010 during the PREDICT field experiment and the subsequent impact of the gyre on the midlatitude flow and weather over eastern North America. The gyre formed when a strong east-west oriented cyclonic shear zone that separated anomalous tropical westerlies in the eastern Pacific from anomalous tropical easterlies over the Caribbean and North Atlantic was disrupted by northerly flow across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec gap (Chivela Pass) into the tropical Pacific. Initially, anomalous easterly flow from the Caribbean that was deflected southward by higher terrain to the west provided the initial source of northerly flow through the gap. Subsequently, northerly winds west of TC Matthew as the storm made landfall in Central America provided a renewed source of gap flow. Finally, a terrain-channeled northerly cool surge developed through the gap in the later stages of the gyre life cycle. TC-induced anticyclonic wave breaking over the western Pacific, subsequent downstream Rossby wave development, and formation of a meridionally elongated trough over central North America contributed to cool surge formation. Gyre formation allowed cyclonic vorticity and tropical moisture to become concentrated over Central America. Gyre-TC interactions and gyre-induced poleward tropical moisture surges will be discussed in conjunction with the “birth” of TC Nicole and subsequent very heavy rains along the U.S. East Coast.

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