Oceanic heat content variability in the eastern pacific ocean for hurricane intensity forecasting

Lynn K. Shay, Jodi K. Brewster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Recent evidence supports the premise that the subsurface ocean structure plays an important role in modulating air-sea fluxes during hurricane passage, which in turn, affects intensity change. Given the generally sparse in situ data, it has been difficult to provide region-to-basin-wide estimates of isotherm depths and upper-ocean heat content (OHC). In this broader context, satellite-derived sea surface height anomalies (SSHAs) from multiple platforms carrying radar altimeters are blended, objectively analyzed, and combined with a hurricane-season climatology to estimate isotherm depths and OHC within the context of a reduced gravity model at 0.25° spatial intervals in the eastern Pacific Ocean where tropical cyclone intensity change occurs. Measurements from the Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate in 2001, long-term tropical ocean atmosphere mooring network, and volunteer observing ship deploying expendable bathythermograph (XBT) profilers are used to carefully evaluate satellite-based measurements of upper-ocean variability. Regression statistics reveal small biases with slopes of 0.8-0.9 between the subsurface measurements compared with isothermdepths (20° and 26°C), andOHC fields derived fromobjectively analyzed SSHAfield.Root-mean-square differences inOHCrange between 10 and 15 kJ cm-2 or roughly 10%-15% of themean signals. Similar values are found for isotherm depth differences between in situ and inferred satellite-derived values. Blended daily values are used in the Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme (SHIPS) forecasts as are OHC estimates for the Atlantic Ocean basin. An equivalent OHC variable is introduced that incorporates the strength of the thermocline at the base of the oceanic mixed layer using a climatological stratification parameter Nmax/No, which seems better correlated to hurricane intensity change than just anomalies as observed in Hurricane Juliette in 2001.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2110-2131
Number of pages22
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Forecasting
  • Hurricanes
  • Oceanic variability
  • Pacific Ocean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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