Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Meteorology and Physical Oceanography (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Sharanya J. Majumdar

Second Committee Member

David S. Nolan

Third Committee Member

Mohamed Iskandarani

Fourth Committee Member

Robert F. Rogers


The vertical wind shear measured between 200 and 850 hPa is commonly used to diagnose environmental interactions with a tropical cyclone (TC) and to forecast the storm's intensity and structural evolution. More often than not, stronger vertical shear within this deep layer prohibits the intensification of TCs and leads to predictable asymmetries in precipitation. But such bulk measures of vertical wind shear can occasionally mislead the forecaster. In the first part of this dissertation, we use a series of idealized numerical simulations to examine how a TC responds to changing the structure of unidirectional vertical wind shear while fixing the 200-850-hPa shear magnitude. These simulations demonstrate a significant intensity response, in which shear concentrated in shallow layers of the lower troposphere prevents vortex intensification. We attribute the arrested development of TCs in lower-level shear to the intrusion of mid-level environmental air over the surface vortex early in the simulations. Convection developing on the downshear side of the storm interacts with the intruding air so as to enhance the downward flux of low-entropy air into the boundary layer. We also construct a two-dimensional intensity response surface from a set of simulations that sparsely sample the joint shear height-depth parameter space. This surface reveals regions of the two-parameter space for which TC intensity is particularly sensitive. We interpret these parameter ranges as those which lead to reduced intensity predictability. Despite the robust response to changing the shape of a sheared wind profile in idealized simulations, we do not encounter such sensitivity within a large set of reanalyzed TCs in the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, there is remarkable consistency in the structure of reanalyzed wind profiles around TCs. This is evident in the distributions of two new parameters describing the height and depth of vertical wind shear, which highlight a clear preference for shallow layers of upper-level shear. Many of the wind profiles tested in the idealized simulations have shear height or depth values on the tails of these distributions, suggesting that the environmental wind profiles around real TCs do not exhibit enough structural variability to have the clear statistical relationship to intensity change that we expected. In the final part of this dissertation, we use the reanalyzed TC environments to initialize ensembles of idealized simulations. Using a new modeling technique that allows for time-varying environments, these simulations examine the predictability implications of exposing a TC to different structures and magnitudes of vertical wind shear during its life cycle. We find that TCs in more deeply distributed vertical wind shear environments have a more uncertain intensity evolution than TCs exposed to shallower layers of upper-level shear. This higher uncertainty arises from a more marginal boundary layer environment that the deeply distributed shear establishes, which enhances the TC sensitivity to the magnitude of deep-layer shear. Simulated radar reflectivity also appears to evolve in a more uncertain fashion in environments with deeply distributed vertical shear. However, structural predictability timescales, computed as the time it takes for errors in the amplitude or phase of azimuthal asymmetries of reflectivity to saturate, are similar for wind profiles with shallow upper-level shear and deeply distributed shear. Both ensembles demonstrate predictability timescales of two to three days for the lowest azimuthal wavenumbers of amplitude and phase. As the magnitude of vertical wind shear increases to universally destructive levels, structural and intensity errors begin to decrease. Shallow upper-level shear primes the TC for a more pronounced recovery in the predictability of the wavenumber-one precipitation structure in stronger shear. The recovered low-wavenumber predictability of TC precipitation structure and the collapse in intensity spread in strong shear suggests that vertical wind shear is most effective at reducing TC predictability when its magnitude is near the threshold between favorable and unfavorable values and when it is deeply distributed through the troposphere. By isolating the effect of the environmental flow, the simulations and analyses in this dissertation offer a unique understanding of how vertical wind shear affects TCs. In particular, the results have important implications for designing and implementing future environmental observing strategies that will be critical for improving forecasts of these destructive storms.


Tropical Cyclones; Vertical Wind Shear; Idealized Modeling; Predictability