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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The effect of translation speed upon the intensity of tropical cyclones over the tropical ocean

  • Author(s): Mei, Wei
  • Pasquero, Claudia
  • Primeau, Francois
  • et al.

During the past several decades operational forecasts of tropical cyclone (TC) tracks have improved steadily, but intensity forecast skills have experienced rather modest improvements. Here we use 40 years of TC track data to show that storm intensity correlates with translation speed, with hurricanes of category 5 moving on average 1 m s−1 faster than tropical storms. This correlation provides evidence that the translation speed of a storm can exert a significant control on the intensity of storms by modulating the strength of the negative effect of the storm-induced sea surface temperature (SST) reduction on the storm intensification (i.e., the SST feedback): Faster-moving storms tend to generate weaker sea surface cooling and have shorter exposure to the cooling, both of which tend to weaken the negative SST feedback. Consistently, there exists a minimum translation speed for intensification and its value grows with TC intensity, resulting in a minimum translation speed for the existence of a TC in each intensity category. Furthermore, a composite analysis of satellite-based SST measurements reveals that in the tropical region the average strength of the storm-induced sea surface cooling can be explained by the superposition of an effect due to the storm intensity and an effect associated with the translation speed, and implies that the variability of upper ocean stratification may not be an important factor in this region. Our results suggest that progress in the prediction of TC tracks, particularly in the translation speed of storms, should lead to improved storm intensity prediction.

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