Structural and Intensity Changes of Hurricane Bret (1999). Part I: Environmental Influences

Lowag, Alexander; Black, Michael L.; Eastin, Matthew D.
November 2008
Monthly Weather Review;Nov2008, Vol. 136 Issue 11, p4320
Academic Journal
Hurricane Bret underwent a rapid intensification (RI) and subsequent weakening between 1200 UTC 21 August and 1200 UTC 22 August 1999 before it made landfall on the Texas coast 12 h later. Its minimum sea level pressure fell 35 hPa from 979 to 944 hPa within 24 h. During this period, aircraft of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) flew several research missions that sampled the environment and inner core of the storm. These datasets are combined with gridded data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Global Model and the NCEP–National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) reanalyses to document Bret’s atmospheric and oceanic environment as well as their relation to the observed structural and intensity changes. Bret’s RI was linked to movement over a warm ocean eddy and high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico coupled with a concurrent decrease in vertical wind shear. SSTs at the beginning of the storm’s RI were approximately 29°C and steadily increased to 30°C as it moved to the north. The vertical wind shear relaxed to less than 10 kt during this time. Mean values of oceanic heat content (OHC) beneath the storm were about 20% higher at the beginning of the RI period than 6 h prior. The subsequent weakening was linked to the cooling of near-coastal shelf waters (to between 25° and 26°C) by prestorm mixing combined with an increase in vertical wind shear. The available observations suggest no intrusion of dry air into the circulation core contributed to the intensity evolution. Sensitivity studies with the Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme (SHIPS) model were conducted to quantitatively describe the influence of environmental conditions on the intensity forecast. Four different cases with modified vertical wind shear and/or SSTs were studied. Differences between the four cases were relatively small because of the model design, but the greatest intensity changes resulted for much cooler prescribed SSTs. The results of this study underscore the importance of OHC and vertical wind shear as significant factors during RIs; however, internal dynamical processes appear to play a more critical role when a favorable environment is present.


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