ATM/MPO/OCE 536/636: Hurricanes

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ATM/MPO/OCE 536/636: Hurricanes (Graduate-level and Senior undergraduate-level)

Taught every other Spring Semester at RSMAS.

Course Description

This course is intended to provide a broad overview of tropical cyclones, starting from the basic structure, dynamics and thermodynamics, then expanding through to observations, modeling, forecasting and impacts.

Learning Objectives

  • To develop an in-depth understanding of the fundamental dynamics and thermodynamics of tropical cyclones
  • To develop critical thinking of state-of-the-science concepts on tropical cyclone formation, motion, and structure and intensity change
  • To learn of the forecasting process and tools, and the human dimension


  • Graduate Students: Introduction to Atmospheric Science (ATM/MPO 651), or by permission of instructor.
  • Undergraduate Students: ATM 305, 405, and 406 with permission of instructor.

 Course Structure

  • Homework: Mapping the tropical atmosphere; Dynamics; Thermodynamics
  • Reading assignments and paper critiques
  • One closed book mid-term exam. (No final exam)
  • Projects on an individual topic that each student proposes. There will be presentations of each project in the last class, followed by a final report.

Reading Material

There is no official textbook for the course.  Reading materials will include:

  • Emanuel, K. A.: The Divine Wind. – recommended as a “coffee-table” book.
  • Selected scientific papers – will be provided in class and uploaded to Blackboard.
  • Reports from the WMO International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones (IWTC). 

Course Topics

  • Structure and Climatology of the Tropical Atmosphere and Hurricanes
  • Dynamics and Thermodynamics: topics include Primary and Secondary circulations, Vortex motion, Convection, Carnot Heat Engine, Inner and outer structure, Response to wind shear, Trough interactions, Energetics, Response to heat and momentum sources
  • Precipitation and microphysics.
  • Components of the life cycle: Genesis, motion, structure and intensity change, air-sea interaction, extratropical transition and decay
  • Large-Scale Oscillations; influence of Madden-Julian Oscillation, Kelvin Waves
  • Observations: Satellites; Aircraft (Doppler Radar, SFMR, dropwindsondes)
  • Modeling and Data Assimilation
  • Forecasting: Analysis techniques; Uncertainty; Verification
  • Impacts: Storm surge; wind and precipitation hazards
  • Vulnerability and risk – the human dimension: communication; preparation and complexities in decision-making; economic and infrastructure impacts
  • Present-day challenges in research and forecasting