North Atlantic tropical storm frequency response to anthropogenic forcing: Projections and sources of uncertainty

Gabriele Villarini, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Thomas R. Knutson, Ming Zhao, James A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Scopus citations

Abstract

The impact of future anthropogenic forcing on the frequency of tropical storms in the North Atlantic basin has been the subject of intensive investigation.However, whether the number of North Atlantic tropical storms will increase or decrease in a warmer climate is still heavily debated and a consensus has yet to be reached. To shed light on this issue, the authors use a recently developed statistical model, in which the frequency of North Atlantic tropical storms is modeled by a conditional Poisson distribution with rate of occurrence parameter that is a function of tropical Atlantic and mean tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs). It is shown how the disagreement among dynamical modeling projections of late-twenty-first-century tropical stormfrequency can be largely explained by differences in large-scale SST patterns from the different climate model projections used in these studies. The results do not support the notion of large (200%) increases in tropical storm frequency in the North Atlantic basin over the twenty-first century in response to increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs). Because the statistical model is computationally inexpensive, it is used to examine the impact of different climate models and climate change scenarios on the frequency of North Atlantic tropical storms. The authors estimate that the dominant drivers of uncertainty in projections of tropical storm frequency over the twenty-first century are internal climate variations and systematic intermodel differences in the response of SST patterns to increasing GHGs. Relative to them, uncertainties in total GHG emissions or other climate forcings, within the scenarios explored here, represent a minor source of uncertainty in tropical storm frequency projections. These results suggest that reducing uncertainty in future projections of North Atlantic tropical storm frequency may depend as critically on reducing the uncertainty in the sensitivity of tropical Atlantic warming relative to the tropical mean, in response to GHG increase, as on improving dynamical or statistical downscaling techniques. Moreover, the large uncertainties on century-scale trends that are due to internal climate variability are likely to remain irreducible for the foreseeable future. As a further illustration of the statistical model's utility, the authors model projected changes in U.S. landfalling tropical storm activity under a variety of different climate change scenarios and climate models. These results are similar to those for the overall number of North Atlantic tropical storms, and do not point to a large increase in U.S. landfalling tropical storms over the twenty-first century in response to increasing GHGs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3224-3238
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Volume24
Issue number13
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science

Keywords

  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Climate models
  • North Atlantic ocean
  • Tropical cyclones

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