Two New Papers Examining the Hurricane-Climate Link
Two new papers examining the link between Hurricanes and climate have been published in the Journal of Climate.
In the July edition, Gabriel A. Vecchi and Thomas R. Knutson have a paper entitled: ‘On Estimates of Historical North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity’
The Abstract states:
In this study, an estimate of the expected number of Atlantic tropical cyclones (TCs) that were missed by the observing system in the presatellite era (between 1878 and 1965) is developed. The significance of trends in both number and duration since 1878 is assessed and these results are related to estimated changes in sea surface temperature (SST) over the “main development region” (“MDR”). The sensitivity of the estimate of missed TCs to underlying assumptions is examined. According to the base case adjustment used in this study, the annual number of TCs has exhibited multidecadal variability that has strongly covaried with multidecadal variations in MDR SST, as has been noted previously. However, the linear trend in TC counts (1878–2006) is notably smaller than the linear trend in MDR SST, when both time series are normalized to have the same variance in their 5-yr running mean series. Using the base case adjustment for missed TCs leads to an 1878–2006 trend in the number of TCs that is weakly positive, though not statistically significant, with p 0.2. The estimated trend for 1900–2006 is highly significant (+4.2 storms century−1) according to the results of this study. The 1900–2006 trend is strongly influenced by a minimum in 1910–30, perhaps artificially enhancing significance, whereas the 1878–2006 trend depends critically on high values in the late 1800s, where uncertainties are larger than during the 1900s. The trend in average TC duration (1878–2006) is negative and highly significant. Thus, the evidence for a significant increase in Atlantic storm activity over the most recent 125 yr is mixed, even though MDR SST has warmed significantly. The decreasing duration result is unexpected and merits additional exploration; duration statistics are more uncertain than those of storm counts. As TC formation, development, and track depend on a number of environmental factors, of which regional SST is only one, much work remains to be done to clarify the relationship between anthropogenic climate warming, the large-scale tropical environment, and Atlantic TC activity.
The paper concludes:
Overall, our findings suggest that it is possible that Atlantic TC counts may have significantly increased since the late nineteenth century, although the evidence is decidedly mixed, with some other activity measures showing either no change or a decrease with time. Total storms per year and U.S. landfalling activity show no increasing trend, and average TC duration shows a significant decrease over time. Further, attribution of an increase in tropical storm counts to any particular mechanism (including increasing greenhouse gasses or natural decadal variations) would require further dynamical analysis to complement any observational results. It is noteworthy that in our adjusted record of TCs the sensitivity of basin-wide storm counts to local SST is smaller for the longest time scales (e.g., trend since 1878) than for the pronounced multidecadal variability, although the current observational “best estimate” would be that this sensitivity is positive. Additional study is needed to reconcile these findings with climate simulations of past and future Atlantic storm activity. Future work should also focus on including more ship-track information where possible and examining assumptions about landfall detection in earlier years, and historical tropical cyclone database reconstructions should be extended to include other basins.
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In the August edition of the Journal of Climate, Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray have a paper entitled: ‘Multidecadal Variability in North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity’
The Abstract states:
Recent increases in Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity since 1995 and the associated destructive U.S. landfall events in 2004 and 2005 have generated considerable interest into why there has been such a sharp upturn. Natural variability, human-induced global warming, or a combination of both factors, have been suggested. Several previous studies have discussed observed multidecadal variability in the North Atlantic over 25–40-yr time scales. This study, using data from 1878 to the present, creates a metric based on far North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies and basinwide North Atlantic sea level pressure anomalies that shows remarkable agreement with observed multidecadal variability in both Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity and in U.S. landfall frequency.
The paper concludes:
This paper expounds upon previous research by highlighting Atlantic basin multidecadal variability in both large-scale atmospheric–oceanic fields as well as Atlantic basin TC (tropical cyclone) activity. Using an index of basinwide SLP (sea level pressure) and far North Atlantic SSTs (sea surface temperatures), positive and negative periods for the AMO (Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation) can be clearly delineated. When the AMO is in its positive phase, TC activity in the Atlantic basin is heightened, especially for MH (major hurricane) activity. Landfalling hurricanes along the U.S. coastline also become more frequent, with the most dramatic increases in a positive AMO phase being seen for the U.S. East Coast and the Florida Peninsula. Additional research involving potential physical drivers of the AMO should be conducted.