Dynamics of barotropic storm tracks

Kyle L. Swanson, Paul J. Kushner, Isaac M. Held

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74 Scopus citations


Longitudinal variations in the upper-tropospheric time-mean flow strongly modulate the structure and amplitude of upper-tropospheric eddies. This barotropic modulation is studied using simple models of wave propagation through zonally varying basic states that consist of contours separating regions of uniform barotropic potential vorticity. Such basic states represent in a simple manner the potential vorticity distribution in the upper troposphere. Predictions of the effect of basic-state zonal variations on the amplitude and spatial structure of eddies and their associated particle displacements are made using conservation of wave action or, equivalently, the linearized "pseudoenergy" wave activity. The predictions are confirmed using WKB theory and linear numerical calculations. The interaction of finite-amplitude disturbances with the basic flow is also analyzed numerically using nonlinear contour-dynamical simulations. It is found that breaking nonlinear contour waves undergo irreversible amplitude attenuation, scale lengthening, and frequency lowering upon passing through a region of weak basic-state flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-810
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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