Revisiting the relationship between eyewall contraction and intensification

Daniel P. Stern, Jonathan L. Vigh, David S. Nolan, Fuqing Zhang

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86 Scopus citations


In the widely accepted convective ring model of tropical cyclone intensification, the intensification of the maximum winds and the contraction of the radius of maximum winds (RMW) occur simultaneously. This study shows that in idealized numerical simulations, contraction and intensification commence at the same time, but that contraction ceases long before peak intensity is achieved. The rate of contraction decreases with increasing initial size, while the rate of intensification does not vary systematically with initial size. Utilizing a diagnostic expression for the rate of contraction, it is shown that contraction is halted in association with a rapid increase in the sharpness of the tangential wind profile near the RMW and is not due to changes in the radial gradient of the tangential wind tendency. It is shown that a number of real storms exhibit a relationship between contraction and intensification that is similar to what is seen in the idealized simulations. In particular, the statistical distribution of intensifying tropical cyclones indicates that, for major hurricanes, most contraction is completed prior to most intensification. By forcing a linearized vortex model with the diabatic heating and frictional tendencies from a simulation, it is possible to qualitatively reproduce the simulated secondary circulation and separately examine the vortex responses to heating and friction. It is shown that heating and friction both contribute substantially to boundary layer inflow. They also both contribute to the contraction of the RMW, as the positive wind tendency from heating-induced inflow is maximized inside of the RMW, while the net negative wind tendency from friction and frictionally induced inflow is maximized outside of the RMW.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1283-1306
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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