An analysis of the effect of global warming on the intensity of atlantic hurricanes using a GCM with statistical refinement

Ming Zhao, Isaac M. Held

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A statistical intensity adjustment is utilized to extract information from tropical cyclone simulations in a 50-km-resolution global model. A simple adjustment based on the modeled and observed probability distribution of storm lifetime maximum wind speed allows the model to capture the differences between observed intensity distributions in active/inactive year composites from the 1981-2008 period in the North Atlantic. This intensity adjustment is then used to examine the atmospheric model's responses to different sea surface temperature anomalies generated by coupled models for the late twenty-first century. In the North Atlantic all simulations produce a reduction in the total number of cyclones, but with large intermodel spread in the magnitude of the reduction. The intensity response is positively correlated with changes in frequency across the ensemble. However, there is, on average, an increase in intensity in these simulations despite the mean reduction in frequency. The authors argue that it is useful to decompose these intensity changes into two parts: an increase in intensity that is intrinsic to the climate change experiments and a change in intensity positively correlated with frequency, just as in the active/inactive historical composites. By isolating the intrinsic component, which is relatively independent of the details of the SST warming pattern, an increase is found in storm-lifetime maximum winds of 5-10 m s-1 for storms with intensities of 30-60 m s-1, by the end of the twenty-first century. The effects of change in frequency, which are dependent on the details of the spatial structure of the warming, must then be superimposed on this intrinsic change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6382-6393
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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