The Rapid Intensification and Eyewall Replacement Cycles of Hurricane Irma (2017)
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The Rapid Intensification and Eyewall Replacement Cycles of Hurricane Irma (2017)

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  • Journal Title:
    Monthly Weather Review
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    The initiation of a rapid intensification (RI) event for a tropical cyclone (TC) at major hurricane intensity is a rare event in the North Atlantic basin. This study examined the environmental and vortex-scale processes related to such an RI event observed in Hurricane Irma (2017) using a combination of flight-level and airborne radar aircraft reconnaissance observations, microwave satellite observations, and model environmental analyses. The onset of RI was linked to an increase in sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content toward levels more commonly associated with North Atlantic RI episodes. Remarkably, Irma’s RI event comprised two rapidly evolving eyewall replacement cycle (ERC) episodes that each completed in less than 12 h. The two ERC events displayed different secondary eyewall formation (SEF) mechanisms and vortex evolutions. During the first SEF event, a secondary maximum in ascent and tangential wind was observed at the leading edge of a mesoscale descending inflow jet. During the ensuing ERC event, the primary eyewall weakened and ultimately collapsed, resulting in a brief period of weakening. The second SEF event displayed characteristics consistent with unbalanced boundary layer dynamics. Additionally, it is plausible that both SEF events were affected by the stagnation and axisymmeterization of outward-propagating vortex Rossby waves. During the second ERC event, the TC continued to rapidly intensify, which is a stark contrast to the ERC paradigm described in the literature. The differing ERC evolutions appear linked to the vortex response to changing environmental conditions. The results presented here underscore the utility of frequent aircraft reconnaissance observations for an improved understanding of TC dynamics.
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    Mon. Wea. Rev. (2020) 148 (3): 981–1004.
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