The role of cumulus congestus (shallow and congestus convection) in tropical cyclone (TC) formation is examined in a high-resolution simulation of Tropical Cyclone Fay (2008). It is found that cumulus congestus plays a dominant role in moistening the lower to middle troposphere and spinning up the near-surface circulation before genesis, while deep convection plays a key role in moistening the upper troposphere and intensifying the cyclonic circulation over a deep layer. The transition from the tropical wave stage to the TC stage is marked by a substantial increase in net condensation and potential vorticity generation by deep convection in the inner wave pouch region.
This study suggests that TC formation can be regarded as a two-stage process. The first stage is a gradual process of moisture preconditioning and the low-level spinup, in which cumulus congestus plays a dominant role. The second stage commences with the rapid development of deep convection in the inner pouch region after the air column is moistened sufficiently, whereupon the concentrated convective heating near the pouch center strengthens the transverse circulation and leads to the amplification of the cyclonic circulation over a deep layer. The rapid development of deep convection can be explained by the power-law increase of precipitation rate with column water vapor (CWV) above a critical value. The high CWV near the pouch center thus plays an important role in convective organization. It is also shown that cumulus congestus can effectively drive the low-level convergence and provides a direct and simple pathway for the development of the TC proto-vortex near the surface.