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Concept: Cyclone


We estimate, for current and future climates, the annual probability of areally averaged hurricane rain of Hurricane Harvey’s magnitude by downscaling large numbers of tropical cyclones from three climate reanalyses and six climate models. For the state of Texas, we estimate that the annual probability of 500 mm of area-integrated rainfall was about 1% in the period 1981-2000 and will increase to 18% over the period 2081-2100 under Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR5 representative concentration pathway 8.5. If the frequency of such event is increasingly linearly between these two periods, then in 2017 the annual probability would be 6%, a sixfold increase since the late 20th century.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Rain, Extratropical cyclone


High-resolution satellite measurements of surface winds and sea-surface temperature (SST) reveal strong coupling between meso-scale ocean eddies and near-surface atmospheric flow over eddy-rich oceanic regions, such as the Kuroshio and Gulf Stream, highlighting the importance of meso-scale oceanic features in forcing the atmospheric planetary boundary layer (PBL). Here, we present high-resolution regional climate modeling results, supported by observational analyses, demonstrating that meso-scale SST variability, largely confined in the Kuroshio-Oyashio confluence region (KOCR), can further exert a significant distant influence on winter rainfall variability along the U.S. Northern Pacific coast. The presence of meso-scale SST anomalies enhances the diabatic conversion of latent heat energy to transient eddy energy, intensifying winter cyclogenesis via moist baroclinic instability, which in turn leads to an equivalent barotropic downstream anticyclone anomaly with reduced rainfall. The finding points to the potential of improving forecasts of extratropical winter cyclones and storm systems and projections of their response to future climate change, which are known to have major social and economic impacts, by improving the representation of ocean eddy-atmosphere interaction in forecast and climate models.

Concepts: Energy, Climate, Weather, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Extratropical cyclone


Socioeconomic challenges continue to mount for half a billion residents of central India because of a decline in the total rainfall and a concurrent rise in the magnitude and frequency of extreme rainfall events. Alongside a weakening monsoon circulation, the locally available moisture and the frequency of moisture-laden depressions from the Bay of Bengal have also declined. Here we show that despite these negative trends, there is a threefold increase in widespread extreme rain events over central India during 1950-2015. The rise in these events is due to an increasing variability of the low-level monsoon westerlies over the Arabian Sea, driving surges of moisture supply, leading to extreme rainfall episodes across the entire central subcontinent. The homogeneity of these severe weather events and their association with the ocean temperatures underscores the potential predictability of these events by two-to-three weeks, which offers hope in mitigating their catastrophic impact on life, agriculture and property.Against the backdrop of a declining monsoon, the number of extreme rain events is on the rise over central India. Here the authors identify a threefold increase in widespread extreme rains over the region during 1950-2015, driven by an increasing variability of the low-level westerlies over the Arabian Sea.

Concepts: Weather, India, Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, Ocean, Cyclone, Rain, Bay of Bengal


Accurately predicting future tropical cyclone risk requires understanding the fundamental controls on tropical cyclone dynamics. Here we present an annually-resolved 450-year reconstruction of western Caribbean tropical cyclone activity developed using a new coupled carbon and oxygen isotope ratio technique in an exceptionally well-dated stalagmite from Belize. Western Caribbean tropical cyclone activity peaked at 1650 A.D., coincident with maximum Little Ice Age cooling, and decreased gradually until the end of the record in 1983. Considered with other reconstructions, the new record suggests that the mean track of Cape Verde tropical cyclones shifted gradually north-eastward from the western Caribbean toward the North American east coast over the last 450 years. Since ~1870 A.D., these shifts were largely driven by anthropogenic greenhouse gas and sulphate aerosol emissions. Our results strongly suggest that future emission scenarios will result in more frequent tropical cyclone impacts on the financial and population centres of the northeastern United States.

Concepts: Earth, United States, Atlantic Ocean, North America, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Caribbean, Extratropical cyclone


Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and identify a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude at which tropical cyclones have achieved their lifetime-maximum intensity over the past 30 years. The poleward trends are evident in the global historical data in both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, with rates of 53 and 62 kilometres per decade, respectively, and are statistically significant. When considered together, the trends in each hemisphere depict a global-average migration of tropical cyclone activity away from the tropics at a rate of about one degree of latitude per decade, which lies within the range of estimates of the observed expansion of the tropics over the same period. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure, and is unlikely to be a data artefact. The migration away from the tropics is apparently linked to marked changes in the mean meridional structure of environmental vertical wind shear and potential intensity, and can plausibly be linked to tropical expansion, which is thought to have anthropogenic contributions.

Concepts: Tropic of Cancer, Thunderstorm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Wind, Equator, Wind shear


A recently developed technique for simulating large [O(10(4))] numbers of tropical cyclones in climate states described by global gridded data is applied to simulations of historical and future climate states simulated by six Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) global climate models. Tropical cyclones downscaled from the climate of the period 1950-2005 are compared with those of the 21st century in simulations that stipulate that the radiative forcing from greenhouse gases increases by $$8.5\hbox{ \hspace{0.5em} }\mathbf{W}\cdot {\mathbf{m}}^{-2}$$ over preindustrial values. In contrast to storms that appear explicitly in most global models, the frequency of downscaled tropical cyclones increases during the 21st century in most locations. The intensity of such storms, as measured by their maximum wind speeds, also increases, in agreement with previous results. Increases in tropical cyclone activity are most prominent in the western North Pacific, but are evident in other regions except for the southwestern Pacific. The increased frequency of events is consistent with increases in a genesis potential index based on monthly mean global model output. These results are compared and contrasted with other inferences concerning the effect of global warming on tropical cyclones.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate change, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, 21st century, Wind


Detection and attribution of past changes in cyclone activity are hampered by biased cyclone records due to changes in observational capabilities. Here we construct an independent record of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity on the basis of storm surge statistics from tide gauges. We demonstrate that the major events in our surge index record can be attributed to landfalling tropical cyclones; these events also correspond with the most economically damaging Atlantic cyclones. We find that warm years in general were more active in all cyclone size ranges than cold years. The largest cyclones are most affected by warmer conditions and we detect a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923. In particular, we estimate that Katrina-magnitude events have been twice as frequent in warm years compared with cold years (P < 0.02).

Concepts: Precipitation, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone, Tropical cyclone meteorology, Storm surge, Extratropical cyclone


The relationship between the two common measures of tropical cyclone intensity, the central pressure deficit and the peak near-surface wind speed, is a long-standing problem in tropical meteorology that has been approximated empirically yet lacks physical understanding. Here we provide theoretical grounding for this relationship. We first demonstrate that the central pressure deficit is highly predictable from the low-level wind field via gradient wind balance. We then show that this relationship reduces to a dependence on two velocity scales: the maximum azimuthal-mean azimuthal wind speed and half the product of the Coriolis parameter and outer storm size. This simple theory is found to hold across a hierarchy of models spanning reduced-complexity and Earth-like global simulations and observations. Thus, the central pressure deficit is an intensity measure that combines maximum wind speed, storm size, and background rotation rate. This work has significant implications for both fundamental understanding and risk analysis, including why the central pressure better explains historical economic damages than does maximum wind speed.

Concepts: Scientific method, Weather, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Wind, Beaufort scale, Wind shear


Hurricane-intensity forecast improvements currently lag the progress achieved for hurricane tracks. Integrated ocean observations and simulations during hurricane Irene (2011) reveal that the wind-forced two-layer circulation of the stratified coastal ocean, and resultant shear-induced mixing, led to significant and rapid ahead-of-eye-centre cooling (at least 6 °C and up to 11 °C) over a wide swath of the continental shelf. Atmospheric simulations establish this cooling as the missing contribution required to reproduce Irene’s accelerated intensity reduction. Historical buoys from 1985 to 2015 show that ahead-of-eye-centre cooling occurred beneath all 11 tropical cyclones that traversed the Mid-Atlantic Bight continental shelf during stratified summer conditions. A Yellow Sea buoy similarly revealed significant and rapid ahead-of-eye-centre cooling during Typhoon Muifa (2011). These findings establish that including realistic coastal baroclinic processes in forecasts of storm intensity and impacts will be increasingly critical to mid-latitude population centres as sea levels rise and tropical cyclone maximum intensities migrate poleward.

Concepts: Precipitation, Atlantic Ocean, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Rain, Extratropical cyclone


The severity of a tropical cyclone (TC) is often summarized by its lifetime maximum intensity (LMI), and the climatological LMI distribution is a fundamental feature of the climate system. The distinctive bimodality of the LMI distribution means that major storms (LMI >96 kt) are not very rare compared with less intense storms. Rapid intensification (RI) is the dramatic strengthening of a TC in a short time, and is notoriously difficult to forecast or simulate. Here we show that the bimodality of the LMI distribution reflects two types of storms: those that undergo RI during their lifetime (RI storms) and those that do not (non-RI storms). The vast majority (79%) of major storms are RI storms. Few non-RI storms (6%) become major storms. While the importance of RI has been recognized in weather forecasting, our results demonstrate that RI also plays a crucial role in the TC climatology.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Storm, Meteorology, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Weather forecasting