SFMR surface wind undersampling over the tropical cyclone life cycle

Bradley W. Klotz, David S. Nolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Surface wind speeds in tropical cyclones are important for defining current intensity and intensification. Traditionally, airborne observations provide the best information about the surface wind speeds, with the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR) providing a key role in obtaining such data. However, the flight patterns conducted by hurricane hunter aircraft are limited in their azimuthal coverage of the surface wind field, resulting in an undersampling of the wind field and consequent underestimation of the peak 10-m wind speed. A previous study provided quantitative estimates of the average underestimate for a very strong hurricane. However, no broader guidance on applying a correction based on undersampling has been presented in detail. To accomplish this task, a modified observing system simulation experiment with five hurricane simulations is used to perform a statistical evaluation of the peak wind speed underestimate over different stages of the tropical cyclone life cycle. Analysis of numerous simulated flights highlights prominent relationships between wind speed undersampling and storm size, where size is defined by the radius of maximum wind speed (RMW). For example, an intense hurricane with small RMW needs negligible correction, while a large-RMW tropical storm requires a 16%-19% change. A lookup table of undersampling correction factors as a function of peak SFMR wind speed and RMW is provided to assist the tropical cyclone operations community. Implications for hurricane best track intensity estimates are also discussed using real data from past Atlantic hurricane seasons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-268
Number of pages22
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Aircraft observations
  • Hurricanes/typhoons
  • Sampling
  • Tropical cyclones
  • Wind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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