Tropical wave

Tropical waves, or easterly waves, also known as African easterly waves in the Atlantic region, are a type of atmospheric trough, an elongated area of relatively low air pressure, oriented north to south, which move from east to west across the tropics causing areas of cloudiness and thunderstorms. West-moving waves can also form from the tail end of frontal zones in the subtropics and tropics and may be referred to as easterly waves, but these waves are not properly called tropical waves; they are a form of inverted trough sharing many characteristics with fully tropical waves. All tropical waves form in the easterly flow along the southern side of the subtropical ridge or belt of high pressure which lies north and south of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Tropical waves are generally carried westward by the prevailing easterly winds along the tropics and subtropics near the equator. They can lead to the formation of tropical cyclones in the north Atlantic and northeast Pacific basins.


A tropical wave normally follows an area of sinking, intensely dry air, blowing northeast. After passing the trough line, the wind veers southeast, the humidity abruptly rises, and the atmosphere destabilizes. This yields widespread showers and thunderstorms, sometimes severe. As the wave moves westward, the showers gradually diminish.

An exception to this rain is in the Atlantic. Sometimes, a surge of dry air called the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) follows a tropical wave, leaving cloudless skies, as convection is capped by the dry layer inversion. Also, any dust in the SAL reflects sunlight, cooling the air below it.


Tropical waves in the Atlantic basin develop from disturbances which drift off the continent of Africa onto the Atlantic ocean. These are generated or enhanced by the African Easterly Jet. The clockwise circulation of the large transoceanic high-pressure cell or anticyclone centered near the Azores islands impels easterly waves away from the coastal areas of Africa towards North America.

Approximately 60% of Atlantic tropical cyclones originate from tropical waves, while approximately 85% of intense Atlantic hurricanes (Category 3 and greater) develop from tropical waves. cite web | author = Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division | title = Frequently Asked Questions: What is an easterly wave? | publisher = NOAA | accessdate = 2006-07-25 | url =] cite journal | last = Avila, Lixion | coauthors = Richard Pasch | year = 1995 | month = March | title = Atlantic tropical systems of 1993 | journal = Monthly Weather Review | volume = 123 | issue = 3 | pages = 887–896 | url = | format = PDF | accessdate = 2006-07-25 | doi = 10.1175/1520-0493(1995)123<0887:ATSO>2.0.CO;2 ]

Tropical cyclones can sometimes degenerate back into a tropical wave. This normally occurs if upper-level wind shear is too strong. The storm can redevelop if the upper level shear abates.

If a tropical wave is moving quickly, it can have strong winds of over tropical storm force, but is not considered a tropical storm unless it has a closed circulation. An example of this was Hurricane Claudette in 2003, where the original wave had winds of convert|45|mi/h|km/h|0|abbr=on before developing a circulation.

East Pacific

It has been suggested that eastern Pacific Ocean tropical cyclones are formed out of tropical waves that originate in North Africa as well. During the summer months, tropical waves can extend northward as far as the desert southwest of the United States, producing spells of intensified shower activity embedded within the prevailing monsoon regime.

ee also

*Tropical cyclone
*Tropical cyclogenesis


External links

* [ Tropical Waves Presentation]
* [ African Easterly Wave Variability and Its Relationship to Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity]

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