Predictability and prediction of tropical cyclones on daily to interannual time scales
Belanger, James Ian
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The spatial and temporal complexity of tropical cyclones (TCs) raises a number of scientific questions regarding their genesis, movement, intensification, and variability. In this dissertation, the principal goal is to determine the current state of predictability for each of these processes. To quantify the current extent of tropical cyclone predictability, we assess probabilistic forecasts from the most advanced global numerical weather prediction system to date, the ECMWF Variable Resolution Ensemble Prediction System (VarEPS). Using a new false alarm clustering technique to maximize the utility of the VarEPS, the ensemble system is shown to provide well-calibrated probabilistic forecasts for TC genesis through a lead-time of one week, and pregenesis track forecasts with similar skill compared to the VarEPS's postgenesis track forecasts. To quantify the predictability of TCs on intraseasonal time scales, forecasts from the ECMWF Monthly Forecast System (ECMFS) are examined for the North Atlantic Ocean. From this assessment, dynamically based forecasts from the ECMFS provide forecast skill exceeding climatology out to weeks three and four for portions of the southern Gulf of Mexico, western Caribbean and the Main Development Region. Forecast skill in these regions is traced to the model's ability to capture correctly the variability in deep-layer vertical wind shear, the relative frequency of easterly waves moving through these regions, and the intraseasonal modulation of the Madden-Julian Oscillation. On interannual time scales, the predictability of TCs is examined by considering their relationship with tropical Atlantic easterly waves. First, a set of easterly wave climatologies for the CFS-R, ERA-Interim, ERA-40, and NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis are developed using a new easterly wave-tracking algorithm. From the reanalysis-derived climatologies, a moderately positive and statistically significant relationship is seen with tropical Atlantic TCs. In relation to large-scale climate modes, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and Atlantic Meridional Mode (AMM) exhibit the strongest positive covariability with Atlantic easterly wave frequency. Besides changes in the number of easterly waves, the intensification efficiency of easterly waves has also been evaluated. These findings offer a plausible physical explanation for the recent increase in the number of NATL TCs, as it has been concomitant with an increasing trend in both the number of tropical Atlantic easterly waves and intensification efficiency. The last component of this dissertation examines how the historical variability in U.S. landfalling TCs has impacted the annual TC tornado record. To reconcile the inhomogeneous, historical tornado record, two statistical tornado models, developed from a set of a priori predictors for TC tornado formation, are used to reconstruct the TC tornado climatology. While the synthetic TC tornado record reflects decadal scale variations in association with the AMO, a comparison of the current warm phase of the AMO with the previous warm phase period shows that the median number of tornadoes per Gulf TC landfall has significantly increased. This change likely reflects the increase in median TC size (by 35%) of Gulf landfalling TCs along with an increased frequency of large TCs at landfall.