Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Meteorology and Physical Oceanography (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Sharanya J. Majumdar

Second Committee Member

David S. Nolan

Third Committee Member

Rolf H. Langland

Fourth Committee Member

Christopher S. Velden


This thesis seeks to identify locations in which errors in numerical model initial conditions may compromise skill in tropical cyclone (TC) track forecasts. Two major TCs that made landfall in 2008 are analyzed: Hurricane Ike and Typhoon Sinlaku. In order to examine the sensitivity of the TC to selected synoptic features, a vorticity perturbation technique is developed. Within a chosen radius and atmospheric depth, the vorticity is amplified or decreased, followed by a re-balancing of the fields. The following questions are proposed: (1) How does the TC track vary with respect to initial perturbations of differing amplitude, spatial scale and distance to the storm? (2) How does the evolving perturbation act to modify the synoptic environment surrounding the TC, and thereby the track? (3) Is it best to follow an objective technique to determine the sensitive areas, or is it better to use a subjective method based on fundamental synoptic reasoning? Utilizing the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, the "control" simulation for each TC is found to replicate forecast errors evident in the operational global models. For Sinlaku, this includes a premature recurvature in the forecast. For Ike, this comprises a landfall too far south along the Texas coast due to no recurvature being forecast. The size, magnitude and location of vorticity perturbations to the control analysis are chosen subjectively. For Sinlaku, these locations include a large mid-latitude shortwave trough around 3000 km to the north-northwest, a smaller upper-level shortwave immediately to the north, a low-level monsoon trough to the west-southwest, a weak tropical storm to the northeast, and a local perturbation in the immediate environment. It is found that WRF forecasts of Sinlaku exhibit high sensitivity, with large modifications to its track arising from the perturbation of each selected targets in the synoptic environment. The greatest improvement in the track forecast occurs by weakening the vorticity associated with each of two shortwaves to the north of Sinlaku, suggesting that either or both of the shortwaves may have been initialized too strongly in the model analysis, thereby contributing to an erroneous recurvature. For Ike, the perturbation locations include a large mid-latitude shortwave trough 2500 km to its north, an upper-level cutoff low to the east-northeast, a low-level shortwave trough to the northwest, a tropical storm in the East Pacific, and a local perturbation in the immediate environment. In contrast to Sinlaku, the perturbation of synoptic targets around Ike produces less sensitivity, likely due to the fact that Ike is not in a position of imminent recurvature. The only perturbation that leads to an accurate 4-day forecast of recurvature and landfall in North Texas is the strengthening of the large mid-latitude shortwave trough, suggesting that the shortwave may have been initialized too weakly in the operational models. Finally, a comparison of targets selected objectively by the Ensemble Transform Kalman Filter (ETKF) versus the above subjectively-chosen targets suggests that while the ETKF effectively indicates similar target regions to those selected subjectively, it may be less effective in ranking the relative sensitivities of those targets. Overall, it is found that the TC track is more sensitive to perturbations of larger amplitude and spatial scale, and less so to the distance between the perturbation and the TC, and sensitivity is confined to specific regions of the flow. The perturbation methodology employed here may be used to offer suggestions of locations in which extra high-density satellite data may be assimilated.


Synoptic; Sensitivity; Hurricane; Typhoon; Tropical Cyclone; Meteorology