Effects of vertical wind shear on the predictability of tropical cyclones

Fuqing Zhang, Dandan Tao

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173 Scopus citations


Through cloud-resolving simulations, this study examines the effect of vertical wind shear and system-scale flow asymmetry on the predictability of tropical cyclone (TC) intensity during different stages of the TC life cycle. A series of ensemble experiments is performed with varying magnitudes of vertical wind shear, each initialized with an idealized weak TC-like vortex, with small-scale, small-amplitude random perturbations added to the initial conditions. It is found that the environmental shear can significantly affect the intrinsic predictability of tropical cyclones, especially during the formation and rapid intensification stage. The larger the vertical wind shear, the larger the uncertainty in the intensity forecast, primarily owing to the difference in the timing of rapid intensification. In the presence of environmental shear, initial random noise may result in changes in the timing of rapid intensification by as much as 1-2 days through the randomness (and chaotic nature) of moist convection. Upscale error growth from differences in moist convection first alters the tilt amplitude and angle of the incipient tropical storms, which leads to significant differences in the timing of precession and vortex alignment. During the precession process, both the vertical tilt of the storm and the effective (local) vertical wind shear are considerably decreased after the tilt angle reaches 908 to the left of the environmental shear. The tropical cyclone intensifies immediately after the tilt and the effective local shear reach their minima. In some instances, small-scale, small-amplitude random noise may also limit the intensity predictability through altering the timing and strength of the eyewall replacement cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)975-983
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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