Rapid intensification and the bimodal distribution of tropical cyclone intensity

Lee, Chia Ying; Tippett, Michael K.; Sobel, Adam H.; Camargo, Suzana J.

The severity of a tropical cyclone (TC) is often summarized by its lifetime maximum intensity (LMI), and the climatological LMI distribution is a fundamental feature of the climate system. The distinctive bimodality of the LMI distribution means that major storms (LMI >96 kt) are not very rare compared with less intense storms. Rapid intensification (RI) is the dramatic strengthening of a TC in a short time, and is notoriously difficult to forecast or simulate. Here we show that the bimodality of the LMI distribution reflects two types of storms: those that undergo RI during their lifetime (RI storms) and those that do not (non-RI storms). The vast majority (79%) of major storms are RI storms. Few non-RI storms (6%) become major storms. While the importance of RI has been recognized in weather forecasting, our results demonstrate that RI also plays a crucial role in the TC climatology.


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