• tropical cyclone;
  • typhoon;
  • boundary layer;
  • friction layer;
  • gradient wind balance


We present a critique of Emanuel's steady-state hurricane model, which is a precursor to his theory for hurricane potential intensity (PI). We show that a major deficiency of the theory is the tacit assumption of gradient wind balance in the boundary layer, a layer that owes its existence to gradient wind imbalance in the radial momentum equation. If a more complete boundary-layer formulation is included using the gradient wind profiles obtained from Emanuel's theory, the tangential wind speed in the boundary layer becomes supergradient, invalidating the assumption of gradient wind balance. We show that the degree to which the tangential wind is supergradient depends on the assumed boundary-layer depth. The full boundary-layer solutions require a knowledge of the tangential wind profile above the boundary layer in the outer region where there is subsidence into the layer and they depend on the breadth of this profile. This effect is not considered in Emanuel's theory. We argue that a more complete theory for the steady-state hurricane would require the radial pressure gradient above the boundary layer to be prescribed or determined independently of the boundary layer.

The issues raised herein highlight a fundamental problem with Emanuel's theory for PI, since that theory makes the same assumptions as in the steady-state hurricane model. Our current findings together with recent studies examining intense hurricanes suggest a way forward towards a more consistent theory for hurricane PI. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society