Tropical cyclogenesis sensitivity to environmental parameters in radiative-convective equilibrium

David S. Nolan, Eric D. Rappin, Kerry A. Emanuel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


In this study, the relationship between the likelihood of tropical cyclogenesis and external environmental forcings is explored in the simplest idealized modelling framework possible: radiative-convective equilibrium on a doubly periodic f-plane. In such an environment, control of the equilibrium environmental sounding is reduced to three parameters: the sea-surface temperature, the Coriolis parameter, and the imposed background surface wind speed. Cloud-resolving mesoscale model simulations are used to generate environments of radiative-convective equilibrium determined by these three factors. The favourability of these environments for tropical cyclogenesis is measured in three ways: in terms of the maximum potential intensity (MPI) of the sounding, based on the thermodynamic theory of Emanuel; in terms of the 'genesis potential' determined by an empirical genesis parameter; and in terms of the propensity of weak initial vortices in these environments to form into tropical cyclones. The simulated environments of radiative - convective equilibrium with no vertical wind shear are found to be very favourable for tropical cyclogenesis. Weak initial vortices always transition to a tropical cyclone, even for rather low sea-surface temperatures. However, the time required for these vortices to make the transition from a weak, mid-level vortex to a rapidly developing tropical cyclone decreases as the MPI increases, indicating the importance of MPT in enhancing the frequency of cyclogenesis. The relationship between this 'time to genesis' and the thermodynamic parameters is explored. The time to genesis is found to be very highly (negatively) correlated to MPI, with little or no relationship to convective instability, Coriolis parameter, mid-level humidity, or the empirical genesis parameter. In some cases, tropical cyclones are found to form spontaneously from random convection. This formation is due to a cooperative interaction between large-scale moisture, long-wave radiation, and locally enhanced sea-surface fluxes, similar to the 'aggregation' of convection found in previous studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2085-2107
Number of pages23
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number629 B
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Random convection
  • Sea-surface temperature
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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