Scatterometer observes extratropical transition of Pacific typhoons



From September 15 to 25, 1996, NASA's scatterometer (NSCAT) monitored the evolution of twin typhoons—Violet and Tom—as they moved north from the western tropical Pacific, acquiring features of mid-latitude storms. The typhoons developed frontal structures, increased asymmetry, and dry air was introduced into their cores. Violet hit Japan, causing death and destruction (Figure 1), and Tom merged with a mid-latitude trough and evolved into a large extratropical storm with gale-force winds (Figure 2).

We understand relatively little about the extratropical transition of tropical cyclones because of the complex thermodynamics involved [e.g., Sinclair, 1993], but we do know that the mid-latitude storms resulting from tropical cyclones usually generate strong winds and heavy precipitation. Since the transition usually occurs over the ocean, few measurements have been made. The transition is a fascinating science problem, but it also has important economic consequences. The transition occurs over the busiest transocean shipping lanes, and when the resulting storms hit land, they usually devastate populated areas.