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Subject: G4) Why do tropical cyclones occur primarily in the summer and autumn?

Contributed by Chris Landsea

As described in Subject G1, the primary time of year for getting tropical cyclones is during the summer and autumn: July-October for the Northern Hemisphere and December-March for the Southern Hemisphere (though there are differences from basin to basin). The peak in summer/autumn is due to having all of the necessary ingredients become most fa vorable during this time of year: warm ocean waters (at least 26°C or 80°F), a tropical atmosphere that can quite easily kick off convection (i.e. thunderstorms), low vertical shear in the troposphere, and a substantial amount of large-scale spin available (either through the monsoon trough or easterly waves).

While one would intuitively expect tropical cyclones to peak right at the time of maximum solar radiation (late June for the tropical Northern Hemisphere and late December for the tropical Southern Hemisphere), it takes several more weeks for the oceans to reach their warmest temperatures. The atmospheric circulation in the tropics also reaches its most pronounced (and favorable for tropical cyclones) at the same time. This time lag of the tropical ocean and atmospheric circulation is analogous to the daily cycle of surface air temperatures - they are warmest in mid-afternoon, yet the sun's incident radiation peaks at noon.

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