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Applications of Statistics and Probability in Civil Engineering – Faber, Köhler & Nishijima (eds)

© 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-66986-3

Development and calibration of central pressure decay models

for hurricane simulation

Fangqian Liu & Weichiang Pang

Department of Civil Engineering, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA

ABSTRACT:    This paper presents a new scenario-based multi-region central pressure decay model for
hurricanes developed and calibrated using the North Atlantic Basin hurricane database (HURDAT). The
central pressure at the hurricane eye (center of storm) is one of the key measurements of the hurricane
intensity and it is commonly used as a modeling parameter in gradient wind field models for estimating
wind speed. The current state-of-the-art hurricane simulation procedures typically assume that the decay
rate of the central pressure deficit is proportional to the post-landfall time. Since the intensity and track of
hurricanes over the land are affected by multiple factors, such as the land topography and heading direc-
tion of hurricanes, it is not accurate to present the decay model with merely one estimator (i.e., the time
after landfall). In this study, in addition to the post-landfall time, the heading direction of the storm is also
considered in the calibration of the decay model. To account for the influence of the land terrain, the con-
tinent of the United States was divided into seven regions, namely, the Gulf Coast, Florida, East Coast,
North-East Coast, Great Lakes, inland area and Mexico. An individual decay model was developed for
each region. Preliminary analyses revealed that the new decay model which utilizes the combination of
post landfall time and heading direction of the storm minimizes the biases (mean errors) and the absolute
errors of the predicted central pressure deficits and wind speeds.

1  INTRODUCTION the decay model), which describes the post land-

fall decay rate of hurricanes. This study focuses on
According to the post hurricane reconnaissance developing and calibrating a more accurate filling
reports compiled by the National Hurricane Center rate model using the Hurricane Database (HUR-
(NHC), structural damage and loss of lives due to DAT) maintained by the NHC (Jarvinen et al.1984).
hurricanes are closely related to the condition of the
storms at landfall. Although storm surge and heavy
2  Decay MOdels
rainfall due to hurricanes might cause damage to
the coastal structures, the main damage is usu-
2.1  Previous study
ally attributed to the effect of wind and not storm
surge. The direct challenges imposed by hurricanes As a storm makes landfall, the central pressure
to structures on the land are in the forms of struc- begins to increase as it loses its energy. As a result,
tural components damage, loss of function and the storm becomes weaker. The rate of weakening
wind-borne debris impact, or on a more serve case, (i.e. decay of central pressure deficit) is typically
structural collapse. These consequences are mainly described by the increase of the central pressure rel-
associated with the wind impact. The major landfall ative to the ambient air pressure, more commonly
hurricanes (> category 3) such as Hugo (1989) and known as the central pressure deficit. The deficit of
Katrina (2004) caused great damage not only to storm central pressure is commonly modeled as a
the coastal regions, cities and towns located several function of the post landfall time. This time-depend-
hundred of kilometers inland were also affected. ent decay model is utilized in the current state-of-
These hurricanes demonstrated the need for more the-art long-term hurricane simulation procedures
accurate predictions for the post landfall behavior (Vickery et al. 2009, Lee and Rosowsky 2007).
of hurricanes. Development of better models to It has been shown in previous studies that the
predict pre—and post—landfall behaviors of hur- decay rate of hurricanes is geographic dependent.
ricanes is essential to accurate predictions of hurri- Schwerdt et al. (1979) subdivided the east coast of
cane risk. One of the key components in hurricane the United States (US) into three different geo-
simulation is the filling rate model (also known as graphic regions (Gulf Coast, Florida ­peninsula

and Atlantic Coast) and derived a filling rate 2.2  Derivation of scenario-based multi-region
model based on the data of sixteen landfall hur- decay model
ricanes. Similar to the Schwerdt’s model, the cen-
The new central pressure decay model was derived
tral pressure decay model proposed by Vickery
using central pressure and hurricane track infor-
and Twisdale (1995) consisted of three geographic
mation within the hurricane database (HUR-
regions. For each region, the central pressure defi-
DAT). Similar to the model proposed by Vickery
cit is defined using the following equation:
and Twisdale (1995), the new decay model utilizes
∆P(t) = (Pa – Pco) exp (a × t) (1) the travel time of storms in a specific region as the
key predictor for the decay rate. The travel time
where ∆P(t) is the central pressure deficit at hour t is herein defined as the time after a storm makes
after landfall, Pa is the ambient air pressure, Pco is landfall or enters a specific region. In the proposed
the central pressure at landfall, and a is the decay model, the central pressure difference (∆P) at any
coefficient: given time t is described by the time traveled in the
region and the decay rate which is unique for each
a = a0 + a1(Pa – Pco) + ε (2) region. The new decay model is defined in the same
format as Equation 1, where Pc is the central pres-
where ε is a normally distributed error term with
sure at time step t. However, the decay coefficient,
a mean of zero. The constants a0 and a1 are the
a, is defined in a slightly different format, where
exponential filling-rate constants that vary for dif-
a = a0 + ε. The values of the filling rate coefficient
ferent regions.
a0, are determined from historical data, which are
Georgiou (1985) proposed a filling rate model
then sorted into eight different groups based on
which consisted of four geographic divisions
the geographic regions and the travel direction of
(western Gulf Coast, central Gulf Coast, Florida
the hurricanes. Following the concept proposed by
peninsula, and Atlantic Coast). Unlike the pre-
Ho et al. (1975), hurricanes were grouped into four
viously discussed models, the Georgiou’s filling
classes based on travel direction and distance: (1)
model does not depend on the time after landfall;
hurricanes entering the land from sea (landfalling
rather it is based on the distance a storm traveled
hurricanes), (2) hurricanes traveling from the coast
after landfall. Batts et  al. (1980) derived a filling
to sea (exiting hurricanes), (3) hurricanes traveling
rate model which is independent of the location
along or parallel to the shoreline (along-shore hur-
and intensity at landfall. The model considers the
ricanes), and (4) hurricanes travelling relatively far
angle between the storm heading direction and the
into the land and away from the shoreline (inland
azimuth of coastline as a predictor for the decay
rate. The filling rate model proposed by Batts et al.
Previous studies (e.g., Schwerdt et al. 1979; Ho
(1980) is defined as:
et  al. 1987; Vickery et  al. 1995) have shown that
∆P(t) = ∆P0 – 0.675(1 + sinφ) × t (3) the decay rates of hurricanes are geographically
dependent (i.e. it is a function of the surface rough-
where φ is the angle between the storm heading ness, topography of the land, etc.). ­Following these
direction and the coastline at the point of landfall. previous studies, the coastal areas of North America
Ho et  al. (1975) characterized hurricanes that were divided into five geographic regions for mod-
affected the coastal regions into three classes: (1) eling the decay behavior of landfalling hurricanes
storms entering the coast from the sea (entering or (Figure  1): Gulf Coast (GC), Florida (FL), East
landfalling); (2) storms which made landfall from Coast (EC), North East (NE), and Mexico (MX).
one coastline and then proceeding from land to sea Several hurricanes (e.g. Alicia 1983 and Gustav
at another coastal point (exiting); (3) storms skirt- 2008) dealt devastating destruction to buildings
ing the coast close to the shore but the center is located hundreds of kilometers inland. It has been
within 150 nautical miles from the coastline (along- observed that the filling rate of hurricanes when
shore or bypassing). located inland do not always follow the same decay
The Vickery and Twisdale (1995) time-dependent pattern as when the hurricanes are located near the
model is simple to apply. However, it is not able to coastline. The circular dots shown in Figure 2 indi-
accurately predict the filling rate of hurricanes at cate the positions of historical hurricane data used
certain time frames or conditions, for example, when for deriving the inland boundary.
the hurricanes are moving along the shore. Build- When a hurricane moves further inland, it
ing on the foundation of the aforementioned decay typically travels at a slower speed and decays at a
models, a new scenario-based multi-region decay slower rate. In order to determine the boundary for
model which combines the key features of the exist- the inland region, equation 1 was used to compute
ing decay models was developed and ­calibrated using the central pressure deficit curve of each histori-
the NHC hurricane database (i.e. HURDAT). cal hurricane record. Examining the decay curves

the inland and the coastal regions. Two inland
regions were defined to characterize the inland
decay behavior of storms (a general Inland region
and the Great Lakes region). The Great Lakes
region was defined because there was evidence
which showed the storms gaining or maintaining
strength when traveling through the Great Lakes
The previously discussed decay models describe
the behaviors of central pressure decay for land-
falling and inland hurricanes. The most common
characteristic for these two models is that the Pc
values increase monotonically as the post-land fall
time increases (i.e., the value of coefficient a in
the exponential decay model is less than 1). Plot-
Figure 1.  Geographic regions for modeling the decay ting the central pressure deficit curves of all his-
rate of landfalling and inland hurricanes.
torical hurricanes revealed that some hurricane
data or certain segments of the decay curves did
not follow the monotonic decay pattern assumed
in the landfall and inland models. Therefore, two
additional decay models were defined to include
the decay behavior of the along-shore and exiting
When a storm entered the land from one coast-
line and then proceeded to move back toward the
sea, the central pressure generally fluctuated and
did not follow a monotonic decay pattern as the
storm was near the coastline. In order to describe
this behavior, an exit zone was assigned to a region
along the coastline (see Figure  3a). The method
used to derive the exit zone for storms was similar
to the one used for the inland region. Nineteen hur-
ricanes in which the deficit rate of the eye changed
abruptly when traveling from land toward sea are
labeled in Figure 3b. These data points were used
to define the exit zone.
Another model employed to explain the fluctua-
tion of central pressure is the along-shore model.
The angle of storm track relative to the coastline
was used as a parameter in determining the land-
fall scenario (i.e. landfalling versus along-shore).
In the proposed model, along-shore hurricanes
were defined as those hurricanes traveling within
150 nautical miles from the coastline and with an
angle that deviated no more than ± 20 degrees from
the shoreline (Figure  4). These hurricanes differ
from typical landfalling hurricanes which exhibit
Figure 2.  (a) Boundary between the coastal and inland an exponential decay pattern as they made land-
regions, and (b) decay model for Inland region. fall, whereas the along-shore hurricanes generally
were able to maintain their strength (i.e., decay at
a slower rate).
of all historical hurricanes reveals that the decay Least-square fitting was used to obtain the decay
rate of hurricanes typically slows down at approxi- rate (parameter a) for each geographic region. The
mately 10 hours after landfall. The positions of the error term, ε, of the decay model was calculated as
hurricane eye for sixteen hurricanes at the moment the difference between the model predicted (com-
when the decay rate (or slope of the decay curve) puted using parameter a and equation 1) and the
changes abruptly are plotted in Figure  2. These actual decay rates recorded in HURDAT. The error
locations are used to define the boundary between terms were modeled using the Johnson Unbounded

Exit Zone

(a) (a)


4.5 (b) 1.8


(Pa-Pc) / (Pa-Pco)

(P a -P c ) / (Pa -P co )
0 5 10 15 20 25 0
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Time in Region (h)
Time in Region (h)

Figure 3.  (a) Exiting region, and (b) decay model for Figure 4.  (a) Example of along-shore hurricanes, and
exit region. (b) decay model for along-shore hurricanes.

Distribution. As previously stated, the decay rate Table 1.  Central pressure decay parameters.
of hurricanes is geographically dependent.
Region Model format Parameter a

Along-Shore y = (a+ε) × t +1 0.00137

3  Model comparison
Exiting y = (a+ε) × t +1 0.00879
Gulf Coast y = exp[(a+ε) × t] -0.03408
The proposed multi-regional filling model was
East Coast y = exp[(a+ε) × t] -0.03183
incorporated into a hurricane simulation proce-
dure (Vickery et  al. 2009) to verify the accuracy North-East y = exp[(a+ε) × t] -0.02656
and feasibility of using it in long-term hurricane Florida y = (a+ε) × t +1 -0.01035
simulation. Using the decay coefficients and error Inland y = exp[(a+ε) × t] -0.02010
terms derived for different regions (Tables 1 and 2), Great Lake y = (a+ε) × t +1 -0.00186
central pressures for all historical hurricanes that Mexico y = exp[(a+ε) × t] -0.02402
made landfall in the US were computed and com-
*t is the time after the storm enters the region of interest.
pared to the actual central pressured recorded in *ε is the modeling error (see Table 3 for more details).
HURDAT. For comparison purposes, the filling-
rate model proposed by Vickery et al. (1995) was
also evaluated. Table 1 shows the means of the Pc e­ specially for post-landfall times greater than
difference between those predicted by the model 6  hours. In contrast, the mean difference (error)
and actual recorded central pressures, sorted by between the Vickery’s model and the HURDAT
post-landfall time. Note that only the data from central pressure values increased as the time after
three geographic regions are presented in Table 3. landfall increased.
A positive difference indicates over-prediction of In addition to comparing the central pressure
the Pc value. As can be seen in Table  3, in gen- difference, comparisons between the gradient wind
eral, the new model produced better predictions, speeds estimated using the model predicted ­central

Table 2.  Modeling error terms of the new decay model. two cities located in Florida Peninsula (Lakeland
and Orlando), the Vickery’s model overestimated
Johnson System Distribution Parameters the wind speed. Based on the Vickery’s model, the
Region (γ ) (η) (ε) (λ) maximum gradient wind speed at Orlando city was
Along-Shore   0.202 0.942 -0.012 0.017 180 m/s while the maximum wind speed estimated
Exiting -1.181 0.898 -0.037 0.055 using the new model was 130 m/s, which was close
Gulf Coast -0.712 0.933 -0.011 0.018 to the HURDAT wind speed of 110  m/s. Eleven
East Coast -0.427 0.452 -0.011 0.006 cities located further inland, at a distance approxi-
North-East -0.003 0.270 -0.019 0.002 mately equal to 250  km away from the coastline,
Florida -0.198 0.540 -0.003 0.013 were also selected for gradient wind speed com-
Inland -1.250 0.936 -0.037 0.018 parison. Five CDF plots are shown in Figure 6. In
Great Lake -0.217 0.391 -0.000 0.009 general, both the new and existing models were able
Mexico -2.033 0.830 -0.045 0.011 to estimate the cumulative gradient wind speeds at
the lower tail end of the CDF curve with reason-
Type of Johnson System Distribution is unbounded Su. able accuracy. However, at the upper tail end, the
wind speeds estimated using the Vickery’s model
deviated from the HURDAT wind speeds while the
Table  3.  Differences between model and observed new model was able to reproduce the CDF curves
increase in central pressure after landfall for the Vickery of the HURDAT wind speeds.
et al. (1995) and the new filling rate model. Figure 7 shows the probability density functions
(PDFs) of the errors between the model predicted
Time after Landfall and HURDAT wind speeds for the selected cities
shown in Figures 5. The means of the error distri-
Region Filling-rate Model 6h 12h 18h Average bution for the new model were all very close to zero
Along New Model 0.40 1.08 6.85 2.78 and symmetry about the means which indicates that
Shore Vickery 0.42 14.32 13.29 -9.06
the new model is unbiased. On the other hand, the
Exiting New Model 6.47 6.12 3.78 5.46 error distributions for the Vickery’s model for mul-
Region Vickery 0.06 12.64 -6.46 -6.35
tiple cities were right-skew with mean values greater
Inland New Model -0.17 – – – than zero. These observations confirmed that the
new scenario-based multi-region decay model can
Region Vickery -12.23 – – –
be used in hurricane simulation procedure to pro-
* Unit: mbar. duce more accurate central pressure and wind speed
predictions than the time-dependent decay models.

pressures and the central pressures recorded in 4  Summary and Conclusions

HURDAT also were made. First, the central pres-
sure at landfall obtained from HURDAT was used Building on the foundation of previous hurricane
to initiate the post landfall central pressure deficit central pressure decay models, a new scenario-
simulation. Next, the Georgia wind field model based multi-region decay model was developed
(Georgia 1985) and the actual hurricane track and calibrated using historical hurricane informa-
information in HURDAT were used to compute tion (HURDAT). In the new model, hurricanes are
the gradient wind speeds for all historical hurri- divided into four classes (landfalling, along-shore,
canes (> category 2) since 1980. exiting, and inland hurricanes) for modeling the
Ten cities located at a distance approximately different decay scenarios. Through an evaluation
equal to 50  km away from the coastline were of the wind speeds computed using the new and
selected and the cumulative density functions previous decay models, it has been shown that the
(CDFs) of the gradient wind speeds are plotted previous model, which does not differentiate exit-
in Figure 5 (five of them are shown here). As can ing and along-shore hurricanes, underestimated the
be seen, the gradient wind speeds estimated using wind speeds at both near-shore and inland loca-
the new model follow the general pattern of the tions in Easy Coast and North-East Coast regions,
­historical wind speeds. Both the new and Vickery’s but overestimated the wind speeds in Florida
models were able to reproduce the wind speeds region. It has been shown that the new model can
at four cities in Gulf coast region with reason- be used to produce better wind speed predictions
able accuracy. However, the CDFs obtained using than that of the earlier studies. This multi-region
the Vickery’s model were slightly conservative for decay model can be implemented into hurricane
three cities along the Atlantic Coast (Hartford, simulation framework for long-term hurricane
CT, Worcester, MA and Kinston, NC). For the simulation.

Worcester, MA [ORH] Lakeland, FL [LAL]
Categoty 2+ Categoty 2+
1 1

Cumulative Distribution Function

Cumulative Distribution Function
0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4
0.2 New Model 0.2 New Model
Vickery Model Vickery Model
0 0
0 50 100 150 200 250 0 50 100 150 200
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)

Kinston, NC [ISO] Hartford, CT [BDL] Orlando, FL [MCO]

Categoty 2+ Categoty 2+ Categoty 2+
1 Cumulative Distribution Function 1 1
Cumulative Distribution Function

Cumulative Distribution Function

0.8 0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4 0.4

0.2 0.2 New Model 0.2 New Model
New Model
Vickery Model Vickery Model Vickery Model
0 0 0
0 50 100 150 200 0 50 100 150 200 0 50 100 150 200
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)

Figure 5.  Cumulative distribution of gradient wind speeds for cities located approximately 50  km from the

Burlington, VT [BTV] Morgantown, WV [MGW]

Categoty 2+ Categoty 2+
Cumulative Distribution Function

1 1
Cumulative Distribution Function

0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4
0.2 New Model 0.2 New Model
Vickery Model
Vickery Model
0 0
0 50 100 150 200 0 50 100 150 200
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)
Ithaca, NY [ITH] Columbus, GA [CSG]
Categoty 2+ Categoty 2+
Cumulative Distribution Function

1 1
Cumulative Distribution Function

0.8 0.8

0.6 0.6

0.4 0.4
0.2 New Model 0.2 New Model
Vickery Model Vickery Model
0 0
0 50 100 150 200 0 50 100 150 200
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)

Figure 6.  Cumulative distribution of gradient wind speeds for cities located approximately 250  km from the

Hartford, CT [BDL] Concord, NH [CON] Kinston, NC [ISO]
Categoty 2 and higher Categoty 2 and higher Categoty 2 and higher
0.015 0.02 0.015
New Model New Model New Model

Probability Density Function

Probability Density Function
Probability Density Function

Vickery Model Vickery Model Vickery Model

0.01 0.01


0.005 0.005

0 0 0
-200 -100 0 100 200 300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300 -200 -100 0 100 200 300
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)

Lakeland, FL [LAL] Orlando, FL [MCO] Worcester, MA [ORH]

Categoty 2 and higher Categoty 2 and higher Categoty 2 and higher
0.02 0.025 0.015
New Model New Model New Model

Probability Density Function

Probability Density Function
Probability Density Function

Vickery Model Vickery Model Vickery Model


0 0 0
-100 -50 0 50 100 150 -100 -50 0 50 100 150 -200 -100 0 100 200 300
Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s) Gradient wind speed (m/s)

Figure 7.  Probability distribution of gradient wind speeds for cities located approximately 50 km from the coastline.

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A tropical cyclone data tape for the North Atlantic
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