Articles | Volume 13, issue 12
Research article
21 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 21 Jun 2013

An examination of two pathways to tropical cyclogenesis occurring in idealized simulations with a cloud-resolving numerical model

M. E. Nicholls and M. T. Montgomery

Abstract. Simulations are conducted with a cloud-resolving numerical model to examine the transformation of a weak incipient mid-level cyclonic vortex into a tropical cyclone. Results demonstrate that two distinct pathways are possible and that development along a particular pathway is sensitive to model physics and initial conditions. One pathway involves a steady increase of the surface winds to tropical cyclone strength as the radius of maximum winds gradually decreases. A notable feature of this evolution is the creation of small-scale lower tropospheric cyclonic vorticity anomalies by deep convective towers and subsequent merger and convergence by the low-level secondary circulation. The second pathway also begins with a strengthening low-level circulation, but eventually a significantly stronger mid-level circulation develops. Cyclogenesis occurs subsequently when a small-scale surface concentrated vortex forms abruptly near the center of the larger-scale circulation. The small-scale vortex is warm core throughout the troposphere and results in a fall in local surface pressure of a few millibars. It usually develops rapidly, undergoing a modest growth to form a small tropical cyclone. Many of the simulated systems approach or reach tropical cyclone strength prior to development of a prominent mid-level vortex so that the subsequent formation of a strong small-scale surface concentrated vortex in these cases could be considered intensification rather than genesis.

Experiments are performed to investigate the dependence on the inclusion of the ice phase, radiation, the size and strength of the incipient mid-level vortex, the amount of moisture present in the initial vortex, and the sea surface temperature. Notably, as the sea surface temperature is raised, the likelihood of development along the second pathway is increased. This appears to be related to an increased production of ice. The sensitivity of the pathway taken to model physics and initial conditions revealed by these experiments raise the possibility that the solution to this initial value problem is near a bifurcation point. Future improvements to model parameterizations and more accurate observations of the transformation of disturbances to tropical cyclones should clarify the conditions that favor a particular pathway when starting from a mid-level vortex.

Final-revised paper