Instabilities in hurricane-like boundary layers

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46 Scopus citations


Recent advances in observational technology have led to a more detailed knowledge of the low-level flow in hurricanes. In particular, quasi-streamwise rolls on a variety of scales have been observed. Some of these rolls have radial wavelengths of 4-10 km, which is comparable to rolls associated with instabilities inherent to Ekman-type boundary layers. The evolution and stability of the swirling boundary layer underneath a hurricane-like vortex is studied using both a nonlinear model and linearized stability analysis. The nonlinear model is an axisymmetric model of incompressible fluid flow, which is used to simulate the development of boundary layers underneath vortices with hurricane-like wind profiles. Axisymmetric rolls appear in these boundary layers, which have some similarities to the observed rolls in hurricanes. The axisymmetric flow is also used as the basic-state for a linearized stability analysis. The analysis technique allows for arbitrary variation in the radial and vertical directions for both the basic-state flow and the perturbations. Thus, the strong radial variations and curvature effects common to strong vortices are part of the analysis. The analysis finds both symmetric and asymmetric instabilities that are similar to those in the nonlinear simulations and in observations. The instabilities acquire some of their energy from the vertical shear associated with a reversal of the radial inflow at the top of the boundary layer, and some of their energy from vertical shear of the azimuthal flow. The radial flow energy conversion tends to increase for flows with less inertial stability and for modes oriented across the low-level shear; the azimuthal flow conversion increases for larger inertial stability and for modes aligned with the low-level shear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-236
Number of pages28
JournalDynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans
Issue number3 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Boundary layer
  • Hurricane
  • Instability
  • Spiral bands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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