Some Views On “Hot Towers” after 50 Years of Tropical Field Programs and Two Years of TRMM Data

  • Edward J. Zipser
Part of the Meteorological Monographs book series (METEOR)


The “hot tower” hypothesis requires the existence of deep cumulonimbus clouds in the deep Tropics as essential agents, which accomplish the mass and energy transport essential for the maintenance of the general circulation. As the role of the deep convective clouds has been generally accepted, the popularity of referring to these deep “hot” towers as undilute towers also has gained acceptance. This paper examines the consequences of assuming that the deep convective clouds over tropical oceans consist of undilute ascent from the subcloud layer.

Using simple applications of parcel theory, it is concluded that observed properties of typical cumulonimbus updrafts in low- to midtroposphere over tropical oceans are inconsistent with the presence of undilute updrafts. Such undilute updrafts are far more consistent with observations in severe storms of midlatitudes. The observations over tropical oceans can be hypothetically explained by assuming large dilution of updrafts by entrainment below about 500 hPa, followed by freezing of condensate. This freezing and subsequent ascent along an ice adiabat reinvigorates the updrafts and permits them to reach the tropical tropopause with the necessary high values of moist static energy, as the hot tower hypothesis requires. The large difference observed between ocean and land clouds can be explained by assuming slightly smaller entrainment rates for clouds over land. These small entrainment differences have a very large effect on updrafts in the middle and upper troposphere and can presumably account for the large differences in convective vigor, ice scattering, and lightning flash rates that are observed. It follows that convective available potential energy (CAPE) is not a particularly good predictor of the behavior of deep convection.

Using the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) to map a proxy for the most intense storms on earth between 36°S and 36°N, they are found mostly outside the deep Tropics, with the notable exception of tropical Africa.


Tropical Ocean Liquid Water Content Cloud Base Moist Static Energy Deep Convective Cloud 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© American Meteorological Society 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward J. Zipser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MeteorologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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