Climate perspective on the large-scale circulation associated with the transition of the first South Atlantic hurricane



The landfall of Cyclone Catarina on the Brazilian coast in March 2004 became known as the first documented hurricane in the South Atlantic Ocean, promoting a new view on how large-scale features can contribute to tropical transition. The aim of this paper is to put the large-scale circulation associated with Catarina's transition in climate perspective. This is discussed in the light of a robust pattern of spatial correlations between thermodynamic and dynamic variables of importance for hurricane formation. A discussion on how transition mechanisms respond to the present-day circulation is presented. These associations help in understanding why Catarina was formed in a region previously thought to be hurricane-free.

Catarina developed over a large-scale area of thermodynamically favourable air/sea temperature contrast. This aspect explains the paradox that such a rare system developed when the sea surface temperature was slightly below average. But, although thermodynamics played an important role, it is apparent that Catarina would not have formed without the key dynamic interplay triggered by a high latitude blocking. The blocking was associated with an extreme positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) both hemispherically and locally, and the nearby area where Catarina developed is found to be more cyclonic during the positive phase of the SAM. A conceptual model is developed and a ‘South Atlantic index’ is introduced as a useful diagnostic of potential conditions leading to tropical transition in the area, where large-scale indices indicate trends towards more favourable atmospheric conditions for tropical cyclone formation. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society