On the height of the warm core in tropical cyclones

Daniel P. Stern, David S. Nolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


The warm-core structure of tropical cyclones is examined in idealized simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. The maximum perturbation temperature in a control simulation occurs in the midtroposphere (5-6 km), in contrast to the upper-tropospheric (>10 km) warm core that is widely believed to be typical. This conventional view is reassessed and found to be largely based on three case studies, and it is argued that the "typical" warm-core structure is actually not well known. In the control simulation, the height of the warm core is nearly constant over a wide range of intensities. From additional simulations in which either the size of the initial vortex or the microphysics parameterization is varied, it is shown that the warm core is generally found at 4-8 km. A secondary maximumoften develops near 13-14 km but is almost always weaker than the primary warm core. It is demonstrated that microwave remote sensing instruments are of insufficient resolution to detect this midlevel warm core, and the conclusions of some studies that have utilized these instruments may not be reliable. Using simple arguments based on thermal wind balance, it is shown that the height of the warm core is not necessarily related to either the height where the vertical shear of the tangential winds is maximized or the height where the radial temperature gradient is maximized. In particular, changes in the height of the warm core need not imply changes in either the intensity of the storm or in the manner in which the winds in the eyewall decay with height.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1657-1680
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'On the height of the warm core in tropical cyclones'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this