What is the key feature of convection leading up to tropical cyclone formation?

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Infrared brightness temperature data are used to investigate convective evolution during tropical cyclone (TC) formation in a quasi-Lagrangian framework. More than 150 named Atlantic storms during 1989-2010 were examined. It is found that both convective intensity and convective frequency increase with time in the inner pouch region but change little, or even weaken slightly, in the outer pouch region. Convection thus appears to concentrate toward the circulation center as genesis is approached. However, large variability is found from storm to storm in convective intensity, area, and duration, and the convective evolution of individual storms does not resemble the composite mean. Further analysis suggests that the composite mean or the median represents the probability of occurrence of convection instead of a recurrent pattern. Three distinct spatial patterns of convection are identified using cluster analysis. Substantial differences in convection intensity and area are found among the clusters and can be attributed to the impacts of environmental conditions. These differences suggest that convection intensity or area is not a key feature of convection for tropical cyclogenesis. In particular, a small and weak convective system is not necessarily associated with a weak vortex. A simple proxy of the radial gradient of convection is found to be similar among the clusters. Furthermore, convection is most effective in strengthening the TC protovortex when its maximum occurs near the pouch center. These findings suggest that organized convection near the pouch center is a key feature of convection for tropical cyclogenesis and that emphasizing convective intensity or frequency without considering the spatial pattern may be misleading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1609-1629
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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