Journal of Fluid Mechanics

An experimental study on hurricane mesovortices

a1 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
a2 Department of Mathematics, The University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX, UK


Mesovortices in the eyewall region of a hurricane are intriguing elements of the hurricane engine. In-situ measurements of them are sparse, however, and our understanding of their overall role in the physics of a hurricane is incomplete. To further understand their dynamics an experimental apparatus using a homogeneous fluid (water) has been constructed to emulate the lower tropospheric flow of the hurricane eye/eyewall region.

For experimental configurations possessing a central aspect ratio less than unity, a primary and secondary circulation similar to the in flow layer of an intense hurricane, and a similar radius-to-width ratio of the curvilinear shear layer bordering the eye and eyewall region, the flow supports two primary quasi-steady vortices and secondary intermittent vortices. The vortices form through Kelvin–Helmholtz instability of the curvilinear shear layer bordering the slowly upwelling fluid in the centre and the converging fluid from the periphery. The primary vortices are maintained by convergence of circulation from the periphery and merger of secondary vortices spawned along the shear layer.

The horizontal flow field is measured using a particle image velocimeter. Despite the relatively strong secondary circulation through the parent vortex the horizontal flow is found to be approximately uniform in the direction parallel to the rotation axis. The peak tangential velocity is found to occur in the mesovortices and is roughly 50% greater than the parent vortex that supports them. The measurements provide insight into recent observations of excessive wind damage in landfalling storms and support the hypothesis that intense storms contain coherent vortex structures in the eyewall region with higher horizontal wind speeds locally than the parent hurricane.

(Received April 30 2001)
(Revised May 8 2002)