Original Paper

Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics

, Volume 122, Issue 1, pp 19-32

First online:

Impact of ocean warm layer thickness on the intensity of hurricane Katrina in a regional coupled model

  • Hyodae SeoAffiliated withPhysical Oceanography Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Email author 
  • , Shang-Ping XieAffiliated withScripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego

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The effect of pre-storm subsurface thermal structure on the intensity of hurricane Katrina (2005) is examined using a regional coupled model. The Estimating Circulation and Climate of Ocean (ECCO) ocean state estimate is used to initialize the ocean component of the coupled model, and the source of deficiencies in the simulation of Katrina intensity is investigated in relation to the initial depth of 26 °C isotherm (D26). The model underestimates the intensity of Katrina partly due to shallow D26 in ECCO. Sensitivity tests with various ECCO initial fields indicate that the correct relationship between intensity and D26 cannot be derived because D26 variability is underestimated in ECCO. A series of idealized experiments is carried out by modifying initial ECCO D26 to match the observed range. A more reasonable relationship between Katrina’s intensity and pre-storm D26 emerges: the intensity is much more sensitive to D26 than to sea surface temperature (SST). Ocean mixed layer process plays a critical role in modulating inner-core SSTs when D26 is deep, reducing mixed layer cooling and lowering the center pressure of the Katrina. Our result lends strong support to the notion that accurate initialization of pre-storm subsurface thermal structure in prediction models is critical for a skillful forecast of intensity of Katrina and likely other intense storms.