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The poleward migration of the location of tropical cyclone maximum intensity


Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity1,2,3. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment4,5. 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 period6. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure3, 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 contributions6.

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Figure 1: Poleward migration of the latitude of LMI away from the tropics.
Figure 2: Observed changes in the mean environment where tropical cyclones form and track.
Figure 3: Global trends of the latitude of LMI with ENSO variability reduced.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.P.K. had the idea for, and designed, the study, and performed the analyses with input from K.A.E. and G.A.V. J.P.K., K.A.E. and G.A.V. provided data and participated in interpretation of the results and the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James P. Kossin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Time series of annual-mean latitude of LMI calculated from the best-track historical data from each ocean basin.

The basins are those in the North Atlantic (a), the western North Pacific (b), the eastern North Pacific (c), the Northern Indian Ocean (d), the Southern Indian Ocean (e) and the South Pacific (f). Linear trend lines are shown with their 95% two-sided confidence intervals (shaded). Note that the y axes in e and f increase downwards.

Source data

Extended Data Figure 2 Time series of annual-mean latitude of LMI calculated from the ADT-HURSAT data from each ocean basin.

The basins are those in the North Atlantic (a), the western North Pacific (b), the eastern North Pacific (c), the Northern Indian Ocean (d), the Southern Indian Ocean (e) and the South Pacific (f). Linear trend lines are shown with their 95% two-sided confidence intervals (shaded). Note that the y axes in e and f increase downwards.

Source data

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Kossin, J., Emanuel, K. & Vecchi, G. The poleward migration of the location of tropical cyclone maximum intensity. Nature 509, 349–352 (2014).

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