Dvorak technique

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Common developmental patterns seen during tropical cyclone development, and their Dvorak-assigned intensities DvorakCDP1973.png
Common developmental patterns seen during tropical cyclone development, and their Dvorak-assigned intensities

The Dvorak technique (developed between 1969 and 1984 by Vernon Dvorak) is a widely used system to estimate tropical cyclone intensity (which includes tropical depression, tropical storm, and hurricane/typhoon/intense tropical cyclone intensities) based solely on visible and infrared satellite images. Within the Dvorak satellite strength estimate for tropical cyclones, there are several visual patterns that a cyclone may take on which define the upper and lower bounds on its intensity. The primary patterns used are curved band pattern (T1.0-T4.5), shear pattern (T1.5–T3.5), central dense overcast (CDO) pattern (T2.5–T5.0), central cold cover (CCC) pattern, banding eye pattern (T4.0–T4.5), and eye pattern (T4.5–T8.0).

Vernon F. Dvorak is a retired American meteorologist. He studied meteorology at the University of California, Los Angeles and wrote his Master thesis An investigation of the inversion-cloud regime over the subtropical waters west of California. in 1966. In 1973 he developed the Dvorak technique to analyze tropical cyclones from satellite imagery. He worked with the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. Dvorak was a recipient of a United States Department of Commerce Meritorious Service award in 1972 and in 2002 he received a Special Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Weather Association. He now lives in Ojai, California.

Tropical cyclone Is a rotating storm system

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".

Infrared electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light

Infrared radiation (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with longer wavelengths than those of visible light, and is therefore generally invisible to the human eye, although IR at wavelengths up to 1050 nanometers (nm)s from specially pulsed lasers can be seen by humans under certain conditions. IR wavelengths extend from the nominal red edge of the visible spectrum at 700 nanometers, to 1 millimeter (300 GHz). Most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects near room temperature is infrared. As with all EMR, IR carries radiant energy and behaves both like a wave and like its quantum particle, the photon.


Both the central dense overcast and embedded eye pattern use the size of the CDO. The CDO pattern intensities start at T2.5, equivalent to minimal tropical storm intensity (40 mph, 65 km/h). The shape of the central dense overcast is also considered. The eye pattern utilizes the coldness of the cloud tops within the surrounding mass of thunderstorms and contrasts it with the temperature within the eye itself. The larger the temperature difference is, the stronger the tropical cyclone. Once a pattern is identified, the storm features (such as length and curvature of banding features) are further analyzed to arrive at a particular T-number. The CCC pattern indicates little development is occurring, despite the cold cloud tops associated with the quickly evolving feature.

Central dense overcast

The central dense overcast, or CDO, of a tropical cyclone or strong subtropical cyclone is the large central area of thunderstorms surrounding its circulation center, caused by the formation of its eyewall. It can be round, angular, oval, or irregular in shape. This feature shows up in tropical cyclones of tropical storm or hurricane strength. How far the center is embedded within the CDO, and the temperature difference between the cloud tops within the CDO and the cyclone's eye, can help determine a tropical cyclone's intensity. Locating the center within the CDO can be a problem for strong tropical storms and with systems of minimal hurricane strength as its location can be obscured by the CDO's high cloud canopy. This center location problem can be resolved through the use of microwave satellite imagery.

Several agencies issue Dvorak intensity numbers for tropical cyclones and their precursors, including the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), the NOAA/NESDIS Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

National Hurricane Center division of the United States National Weather Service

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is the division of the United States' National Weather Service responsible for tracking and predicting tropical weather systems between the Prime Meridian and the 140th meridian west poleward to the 30th parallel north in the northeast Pacific Ocean and the 31st parallel north in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The agency, which is co-located with the Miami branch of the National Weather Service, is situated on the campus of Florida International University in University Park, Florida.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration An American scientific agency within the US Department of Commerce that focuses on the oceans and the atmosphere

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere.

The United States Satellite Analysis Branch, part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service's Satellite Services Division, is the operational focal point for real-time imagery products within NESDIS. It is also responsible for doing Dvorak technique intensity fixes on tropical cyclones. Its roots lie in the establishment of the Meteorological Satellite Section by January 1959.

Evolution of the method

The Dvorak technique does not correctly diagnose cyclone intensity for storms like Subtropical Storm Andrea since it applies to tropical cyclones only Subtropical Storm Andrea 2007.jpg
The Dvorak technique does not correctly diagnose cyclone intensity for storms like Subtropical Storm Andrea since it applies to tropical cyclones only

The initial development of this technique occurred in 1969 by Vernon Dvorak, using satellite pictures of tropical cyclones within the northwest Pacific Ocean. The system as it was initially conceived involved pattern matching of cloud features with a development and decay model. As the technique matured through the 1970s and 1980s, measurement of cloud features became dominant in defining tropical cyclone intensity and central pressure of the tropical cyclone's low-pressure area. Use of infrared satellite imagery led to a more objective assessment of the strength of tropical cyclones with eyes, using the cloud top temperatures within the eyewall and contrasting them with the warm temperatures within the eye itself. Constraints on short term intensity change are used less frequently than they were back in the 1970s and 1980s. The central pressures assigned to tropical cyclones have required modification, as the original estimates were 5–10 hPa (0.15–0.29 inHg) too low in the Atlantic and up to 20 hPa (0.59 inHg) too high in the northwest Pacific. This led to the development of a separate wind-pressure relationship for the northwest Pacific, devised by Atkinson and Holliday in 1975, then modified in 1977. [1]

Low-pressure area region where the atmospheric pressure is lower than that of surrounding locations

A low-pressure area, low, depression or cyclone is a region on the topographic map where the atmospheric pressure is lower than that of surrounding locations. Low-pressure systems form under areas of wind divergence that occur in the upper levels of the troposphere. The formation process of a low-pressure area is known as cyclogenesis. Within the field of meteorology, atmospheric divergence aloft occurs in two areas. The first area is on the east side of upper troughs, which form half of a Rossby wave within the Westerlies. A second area of wind divergence aloft occurs ahead of embedded shortwave troughs, which are of smaller wavelength. Diverging winds aloft ahead of these troughs cause atmospheric lift within the troposphere below, which lowers surface pressures as upward motion partially counteracts the force of gravity.

Satellite imagery imagery of the Earth or another astronomical object taken from an artificial satellite

Satellite imagery are images of Earth or other planets collected by imaging satellites operated by governments and businesses around the world. Satellite imaging companies sell images by licensing them to governments and businesses such as Apple Maps and Google Maps.

As human analysts using the technique lead to subjective biases, efforts have been made to make more objective estimates using computer programs, which have been aided by higher-resolution satellite imagery and more powerful computers. Since tropical cyclone satellite patterns can fluctuate over time, automated techniques use a six-hour averaging period to lead to more reliable intensity estimates. Development of the objective Dvorak technique began in 1998, which performed best with tropical cyclones that had eyes (of hurricane or typhoon strength). It still required a manual center placement, keeping some subjectivity within the process. By 2004, an advanced objective Dvorak technique was developed which utilized banding features for systems below hurricane intensity and to objectively determine the tropical cyclone's center. A central pressure bias was uncovered in 2004 relating to the slope of the tropopause and cloud top temperatures which change with latitude that helped improve central pressure estimates within the objective technique. [1]

The tropopause is the boundary in the Earth's atmosphere between the troposphere and the stratosphere. It is a thermodynamic gradient stratification layer, marking the end of troposphere. It lies, on average, at 17 kilometres (11 mi) above equatorial regions, and above 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) over the polar regions.

Details of the method

Dvorak T-Number and Corresponding Intensity [2]
T-Number 1-min Winds Category (SSHWS)Min. Pressure (millibars)
(knots)(mph)(km/h)AtlanticNW Pacific
1.0 – 1.5252945below TD--------
4.06575120 Cat 1 987976
4.57789143 Cat 1Cat 2 979966
5.090104167 Cat 2 970954
5.5102117189 Cat 3 960941
6.0115132213 Cat 4 948927
6.5127146235 Cat 4 935915
7.0140161260 Cat 5 921898
7.5155178287 Cat 5 906879
8.0170196315 Cat 5 890858
8.5Dagger-14-plain.png185213343 Cat 5 873841
Note: The pressures shown for the NW Pacific basin are lower as the pressure of the entire basin are relatively lower than that of the Atlantic basin. [3]
Dagger-14-plain.pngValues of 8.1–8.5 are only assigned by the CIMSS and NOAA automated advanced Dvorak systems and not used in subjective analyses. [4]
Dvorak enhancement imagery of Typhoon Haiyan at T8.0 Haiyan 2013-11-07 1430Z IR-BD lineless.png
Dvorak enhancement imagery of Typhoon Haiyan at T8.0

In a developing cyclone, the technique takes advantage of the fact that cyclones of similar intensity tend to have certain characteristic features, and as they strengthen, they tend to change in appearance in a predictable manner. The structure and organization of the tropical cyclone are tracked over 24 hours to determine if the storm has weakened, maintained its intensity, or strengthened. Various central cloud and banding features are compared with templates that show typical storm patterns and their associated intensity. [5] If infrared satellite imagery is available for a cyclone with a visible eye pattern, then the technique utilizes the difference between the temperature of the warm eye and the surrounding cold cloud tops to determine intensity (colder cloud tops generally indicate a more intense storm). In each case a "T-number" (an abbreviation for Tropical Number) and a Current Intensity (CI) value are assigned to the storm. These measurements range between 1 (minimum intensity) and 8 (maximum intensity). [3] The T-number and CI value are the same except for weakening storms, in which case the CI is higher. [6] [7] For weakening systems, the CI is held as the tropical cyclone intensity for 12 hours, though research from the National Hurricane Center indicates that six hours is more reasonable. [8] The table at right shows the approximate surface wind speed and sea level pressure that corresponds to a given T-number. [9] The amount a tropical cyclone can change in strength per 24‑hour period is limited to 2.5 T-numbers per day. [1]

Tropical cyclones are unofficially ranked on one of five tropical cyclone intensity scales, according to their maximum sustained winds and which tropical cyclone basin(s) they are located in. Only a few scales of classifications are used officially by the meteorological agencies monitoring the tropical cyclones, but some alternative scales also exist, such as accumulated cyclone energy, the Power Dissipation Index, the Integrated Kinetic Energy Index, and the Hurricane Severity Index.

Atmospheric pressure, sometimes also called barometric pressure, is the pressure within the atmosphere of Earth. The standard atmosphere is a unit of pressure defined as 1013.25 mbar (101.325 kPa), equivalent to 760 mmHg (torr), 29.9212 inches Hg, or 14.696 psi. The atm unit is roughly equivalent to the mean sea-level atmospheric pressure on Earth, that is, the Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is approximately 1 atm.

Pattern types

Within the Dvorak satellite strength estimate for tropical cyclones, there are several visual patterns that a cyclone may take on which define the upper and lower bounds on its intensity. The primary patterns used are curved band pattern (T1.0-T4.5), shear pattern (T1.5-T3.5), central dense overcast (CDO) pattern (T2.5-T5.0), banding eye pattern (T4.0-T4.5), eye pattern (T4.5 – T8.0), and central cold cover (CCC) pattern. [10] Both the central dense overcast and embedded eye pattern utilize the size of the CDO. The CDO pattern intensities start at T2.5, equivalent to minimal tropical storm intensity (40 miles per hour (64 km/h)). The shape of the central dense overcast is also considered. The farther the center is tucked into the CDO, the stronger it is deemed. [11] Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained winds between 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) and 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) can have their center of circulations obscured by cloudiness within visible and infrared satellite imagery, which makes diagnosis of their intensity a challenge. [12]

The CCC pattern, with its large and quickly developing mass of thick cirrus clouds spreading out from an area of convection near a tropical cyclone center within a short time frame, indicates little development. When it develops, rainbands and cloud lines around the tropical cyclone weaken and the thick cloud shield obscures the circulation center. While it resembles a CDO pattern, it is rarely seen. [10]

The eye pattern utilizes the coldness of the cloud tops within the surrounding mass of thunderstorms and contrasts it with the temperature within the eye itself. The larger the temperature difference is, the stronger the tropical cyclone. [11] Winds within tropical cyclones can also be estimated by tracking features within the CDO using rapid scan geostationary satellite imagery, whose pictures are taken minutes apart rather than every half-hour. [13]

Once a pattern is identified, the storm features (such as length and curvature of banding features) are further analyzed to arrive at a particular T-number. [14]


Several agencies issue Dvorak intensity numbers for tropical cyclones and their precursors. These include the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center at the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. [9]

The National Hurricane Center will often quote Dvorak T-numbers in their tropical cyclone products. The following example is from discussion number 3 of Tropical Depression 24 (eventually Hurricane Wilma) of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season: [15]


Note that in this case the Dvorak T-number (in this case T2.5) was simply used as a guide but other factors determined how the NHC decided to set the system's intensity.

The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison has developed the Objective Dvorak Technique (ODT). This is a modified version of the Dvorak technique which uses computer algorithms rather than subjective human interpretation to arrive at a CI number. This is generally not implemented for tropical depressions or weak tropical storms. [9] The China Meteorological Agency (CMA) is expected to start using the standard 1984 version of Dvorak in the near future. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) prefers using visible satellite imagery over infrared imagery due to a perceived high bias in estimates derived from infrared imagery during the early morning hours of convective maximum. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) uses the infrared version of Dvorak over the visible imagery version. Hong Kong Observatory and JMA continue to utilize Dvorak after tropical cyclone landfall. Various centers hold on to the maximum current intensity for 6–12 hours, though this rule is broken when rapid weakening is obvious. [8]

Citizen science site Cyclone Center uses a modified version of the Dvorak technique to categorize post-1970 tropical weather. [16]

Benefits and disadvantages

The most significant benefit of the use of the technique is that it has provided a more complete history of tropical cyclone intensity in areas where aircraft reconnaissance is neither possible nor routinely available. Intensity estimates of maximum sustained wind are currently within 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h) of what aircraft are able to measure half of the time, though the assignment of intensity of systems with strengths between moderate tropical-storm force (60 miles per hour (97 km/h)) and weak hurricane- or typhoon-force (100 miles per hour (160 km/h)) is the least certain. Its overall precision has not always been true, as refinements in the technique led to intensity changes between 1972 and 1977 of up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). The method is internally consistent in that it constrains rapid increases or decreases in tropical cyclone intensity. Some tropical cyclones fluctuate in strength more than the 2.5 T numbers per day limit allowed by the rule, which can work to the technique's disadvantage and has led to occasional abandonment of the constraints since the 1980s. Systems with small eyes near the limb, or edge, of a satellite image can be biased too weakly using the technique, which can be resolved through use of polar-orbiting satellite imagery. Subtropical cyclone intensity cannot be determined using Dvorak, which led to the development of the Hebert-Poteat technique in 1975. Cyclones undergoing extratropical transition, losing their thunderstorm activity, see their intensities underestimated using the Dvorak technique. This led to the development of the Miller and Lander extratropical transition technique which can be used under these circumstances. [1]

See also

Other tools used to determine tropical cyclone intensity:

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  16. "Cyclone Center". www.cyclonecenter.org. Retrieved 2015-08-05.
Agencies issuing Dvorak intensity estimates