A numerical modelling investigation of the role of diabatic heating and cooling in the development of a mid-level vortex prior to tropical cyclogenesis – Part 1: The response to stratiform components of diabatic forcing

Nicholls, Melville E.; Pielke Sr., Roger A.; Wheeler, Donavan; Carrio, Gustavo; Smith, Warren P.

Mid-tropospheric mesoscale convective vortices have been often observed to precede tropical cyclogenesis. Moreover, recent cloud-resolving numerical modelling studies that are initialized with a weak cyclonic mid-tropospheric vortex sometimes show a considerable intensification of the mid-level circulation prior to the development of the strong cyclonic surface winds that characterize tropical cyclogenesis. The objective of this two-part study is to determine the processes that lead to the development of a prominent mid-level vortex during a simulation of the transformation of a tropical disturbance into a tropical depression, in particular the role of diabatic heating and cooling. For simplicity simulations are initialized from a quiescent environment. In this first part, results of the numerical simulation are described and the response to stratiform components of the diabatic forcing is investigated. In the second part, the contribution of diabatic heating in convective cells to the development of the mid-level vortex is examined.

Results show that after a period of intense convective activity, merging of anvils from numerous cells creates an expansive stratiform ice region in the upper troposphere, and at its base a mid-level inflow starts to develop. Subsequently conservation of angular momentum leads to strengthening of the mid-level circulation. A 12 h period of mid-level vortex intensification is examined during which the mid-level tangential winds become stronger than those at the surface. The main method employed to determine the role of diabatic forcing in causing the mid-level inflow is to diagnose it from the full physics simulation and then impose it in a simulation with hydrometeors removed and the microphysics scheme turned off. Removal of hydrometeors is achieved primarily through artificially increasing their fall speeds 3 h prior to the 12 h period. This results in a state that is in approximate gradient wind balance, with only a weak secondary circulation. Then, estimates of various components of the diabatic forcing are imposed as source terms in the thermodynamic equation in order to examine the circulations that they independently induce. Sublimation cooling at the base of the stratiform ice region is shown to be the main factor responsible for causing the strong mid-level vortex to develop, with smaller contributions from stratiform heating aloft and low-level melting and evaporation. This contrasts with the findings of previous studies of mid-latitude vortices that indicate sublimation plays a relatively minor role. An unanticipated result is that the central cool region that develops near the melting level is to a large degree due to compensating adiabatic ascent in response to descent driven by diabatic cooling adjacent to the central region, rather than in situ diabatic cooling. The mid-level inflow estimated from stratiform processes is notably weaker than for the full physics simulation, suggesting a moderate contribution from diabatic forcing in convective cells.

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Nicholls, Melville E. / Pielke Sr., Roger A. / Wheeler, Donavan / et al: A numerical modelling investigation of the role of diabatic heating and cooling in the development of a mid-level vortex prior to tropical cyclogenesis – Part 1: The response to stratiform components of diabatic forcing. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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