The roles of wind shear and thermal stratification in past and projected changes of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity

Stephen T. Garner, Isaac M. Held, Thomas Knutson, Joseph Sirutis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Atlantic tropical cyclone activity has trended upward in recent decades. The increase coincides with favorable changes in local sea surface temperature and other environmental indices, principally associated with vertical shear and the thermodynamic profile. The relative importance of these environmental factors has not been firmly established. A recent study using a high-resolution dynamical downscaling model has captured both the trend and interannual variations in Atlantic storm frequency with considerable fidelity. In the present work, this downscaling framework is used to assess the importance of the large-scale thermo-dynamic environment relative to other factors influencing Atlantic tropical storms. Separate assessments are done for the recent multidecadal trend (1980-2006) and a model-projected global warming environment for the late 21st century. For the multidecadal trend, changes in the seasonal-mean thermodynamic environment (sea surface temperature and atmospheric temperature profile at fixed relative humidity) account for more than half of the observed increase in tropical cyclone frequency, with other seasonal-mean changes (including vertical shear) having a somewhat smaller combined effect. In contrast, the model's projected reduction in Atlantic tropical cyclone activity in the warm climate scenario appears to be driven mostly by increased seasonal-mean vertical shear in the western Atlantic and Caribbean rather than by changes in the SST and thermodynamic profile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4723-4734
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number17
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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