Maximizing Simulated Tropical Cyclone Intensity With Action Minimization

David A. Plotkin, Robert J. Webber, Morgan E. O'Neill, Jonathan Weare, Dorian S. Abbot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Direct computer simulation of intense tropical cyclones (TCs) in weather models is limited by computational expense. Intense TCs are rare and have small-scale structures, making it difficult to produce large ensembles of storms at high resolution. Further, models often fail to capture the process of rapid intensification, which is a distinguishing feature of many intense TCs. Understanding rapid intensification is especially important in the context of global warming, which may increase the frequency of intense TCs. To better leverage computational resources for the study of rapid intensification, we introduce an action minimization algorithm applied to the Weather Research and Forecasting and WRFPLUS models. Action minimization nudges the model into forming more intense TCs than it otherwise would; it does so via the maximum likelihood path in a stochastic formulation of the model, thereby allowing targeted study of intensification mechanisms. We apply action minimization to simulations of Hurricanes Danny (2015) and Fred (2009) at 6-km resolution to demonstrate that the algorithm consistently intensifies TCs via physically plausible pathways. We show an approximately tenfold computational savings using action minimization to study the tail of the TC intensification distribution. Further, for Hurricanes Danny and Fred, action minimization produces perturbations that preferentially reduce low-level shear as compared to upper-level shear, at least above a threshold of approximately 4 m/s. We also demonstrate that asymmetric, time-dependent patterns of heating can cause significant TC intensification beyond symmetric, azimuthally averaged heating and find a regime of nonlinear response to asymmetric heating that has not been extensively studied in previous work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)863-891
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • WRF
  • action minimization
  • rapid intensification
  • tropical cyclone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Maximizing Simulated Tropical Cyclone Intensity With Action Minimization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this