Convectively generated potential vorticity in rainbands and formation of the secondary eyewall in Hurricane Rita of 2005

Falko Judt, Shuyi S. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Eyewall replacements in mature tropical cyclones usually cause intensity fluctuations. One reason for eyewall replacements remaining a forecasting challenge is the lack of understanding of how secondary eyewalls form. This study uses high-resolution, full-physics-model forecast fields of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005) to better understand potential vorticity (PV) generation in the rainbands and the role that convectively generatedPV played in the formation of a secondary eyewall in Hurricane Rita. Previous studies have focused on dynamic processes in the inner core and/or the effects of certain specified PV distributions. However, the initial development of a concentric PV ring in the rainband region has not been fully addressed. Katrina and Rita were extensively observed by three research aircraft during the Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment (RAINEX), which was designed to study the interaction of the rainbands and the inner core. Rita developed a secondary eyewall and went through an eyewall replacement cycle, whereas Katrina maintained a single primary eyewall during the RAINEX observation period before landfall. These distinct features observed in RAINEX-provide a unique opportunity to examine the physical and dynamical processes that lead to formation of concentric eyewalls. A triply nested high-resolution model with 1.67-km resolution in the innermost domain, initialized with operational model forecasts in real time during RAINEX, is used in this study. Analyses of wind, vorticity, PV, and vortex Rossby wave (VRW) activity in the inner-core region were conducted using both RAINEX airborne observations and model output. The results show that a higher PV generation rate and accumulation in the rainband region in Rita leads to a secondary PV/vorticity maximum, which eventually became the secondary eyewall. A strong moat area developed between the primary eyewall and the concentric ring of convection in Rita, prohibiting VRW activity. In contrast, VRWs propagated radially outward from the inner core to the rainband region in Katrina. The VRWs were not a contributing factor in the initial formation of the secondary eyewall in Rita since the moat region with nearzero PV gradient did not allow for radial propagation of VRWs. The large accumulation of convectively generated PV in the rainband region was the key factor in the formation of the secondary eyewall in Rita.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3581-3599
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Convection
  • Convective-scale processes
  • Hurricanes
  • Potential vorticity
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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