Precipitation distribution in tropical cyclones using the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) microwave imager: A global perspective

Manuel Lonfat, Frank D. Marks, Shuyi S. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

252 Scopus citations


TRMM microwave imager rain estimates are used to quantify the spatial distribution of rainfall in tropical cyclones (TCs) over the global oceans. A total of 260 TCs were observed worldwide from 1 January 1998-31 December 2000, providing 2121 instantaneous TC precipitation observations. To examine the relationship between the storm intensity, its geographical location, and the rainfall distribution, the dataset is stratified into three intensity groups and six oceanic basins. The three intensity classes used in this study are tropical storms (TSs) with winds <33 m s-1, category 1-2 hurricane-strength systems (CAT12) with winds from 34-48 m s-1, and category 3-5 systems (CAT35) with winds >49 m s-1. The axisymmetric component of the TC rainfall is represented by the radial distribution of the azimuthal mean rainfall rates (R). The mean rainfall distribution is computed using 10-km annuli from the storm center to a 500-km radius. The azimuthal mean rain rates vary with storm intensity and from basin to basin. The maximum R is about 12 mm h-1 for CAT35, but decreases to 7 mm h-1 for CAT12, and to 3 mm h-1 for TS. The radius from the storm center of the maximum rainfall decreases with increasing storm intensity, from 50 km for TS to 35 km for CAT35 systems. The asymmetric component is determined by the first-order Fourier decomposition in a coordinate system relative to the storm motion. The asymmetry in TC rainfall varies significantly with both storm intensity and geographic locations. For the global average of all TCs, the maximum rainfall is located in the front quadrants. The location of the maximum rainfall shifts from the front-left quadrant for TS to the front-right for CAT35. The amplitude of the asymmetry varies with intensity as well; TS shows a larger asymmetry than CAT12 and CAT35. These global TC rainfall distributions and variability observed in various ocean basins should help to improve TC rainfall forecasting worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1645-1660
Number of pages16
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Precipitation distribution in tropical cyclones using the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) microwave imager: A global perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this