Articles | Volume 12, issue 23
Research article
03 Dec 2012
Research article |  | 03 Dec 2012

A Lagrangian analysis of a developing and non-developing disturbance observed during the PREDICT experiment

B. Rutherford and M. T. Montgomery

Abstract. The problem of tropical cyclone formation requires among other things an improved understanding of recirculating flow regions on sub-synoptic scales in a time evolving flow with typically sparse real-time data. This recirculation problem has previously been approached assuming as a first approximation both a layer-wise two-dimensional and nearly steady flow in a co-moving frame with the parent tropical wave or disturbance. This paper provides an introduction of Lagrangian techniques for locating flow boundaries that encompass regions of recirculation in time-dependent flows that relax the steady flow approximation.

Lagrangian methods detect recirculating regions from time-dependent data and offer a more complete methodology than the approximate steady framework. The Lagrangian reference frame follows particle trajectories so that flow boundaries which constrain particle transport can be viewed in a frame-independent setting. Finite-time Lagrangian scalar field methods from dynamical systems theory offer a way to compute boundaries from grids of particles seeded in and near a disturbance.

The methods are applied to both a developing and non-developing disturbance observed during the recent pre-depression investigation of cloud systems in the tropics (PREDICT) experiment. The data for this analysis is derived from global forecast model output that assimilated the dropsonde observations as they were being collected by research aircraft. Since Lagrangian methods require trajectory integrations, we address some practical issues of using Lagrangian methods in the tropical cyclogenesis problem. Lagrangian diagnostics are used to evaluate the previously hypothesized import of dry air into ex-Gaston, which did not re-develop into a tropical cyclone, and the exclusion of dry air from pre-Karl, which did become a tropical cyclone and later a major hurricane.

Final-revised paper