Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Hurricane intensification along United States coast suppressed during active hurricane periods


The North Atlantic ocean/atmosphere environment exhibits pronounced interdecadal variability that is known to strongly modulate Atlantic hurricane activity1,2,3,4,5,6. Variability in sea surface temperature (SST) is correlated with hurricane variability through its relationship with the genesis and thermodynamic potential intensity of hurricanes7. Another key factor that governs the genesis and intensity of hurricanes is ambient environmental vertical wind shear8,9,10 (VWS). Warmer SSTs generally correlate with more frequent genesis and greater potential intensity, while VWS inhibits genesis and prevents any hurricanes that do form from reaching their potential intensity. When averaged over the main hurricane-development region in the Atlantic, SST and VWS co-vary inversely11,12, so that the two factors act in concert to either enhance or inhibit basin-wide hurricane activity. Here I show, however, that conditions conducive to greater basin-wide Atlantic hurricane activity occur together with conditions for more probable weakening of hurricanes near the United States coast. Thus, the VWS and SST form a protective barrier along the United States coast during periods of heightened basin-wide hurricane activity. Conversely, during the most-recent period of basin-wide quiescence, hurricanes (and particularly major hurricanes) near the United States coast, although substantially less frequent, exhibited much greater variability in their rate of intensification, and were much more likely to intensify rapidly. Such heightened variability poses greater challenges to operational forecasting and, consequently, greater coastal risk during hurricane events.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Interdecadal variability of basin-wide Atlantic hurricane frequency and MDR environmental conditions.
Figure 2: Patterns of Atlantic VWS and SST variability.
Figure 3: Probability distributions of observed intensification rates near the US coast.
Figure 4: Pattern of Atlantic SST trends.


  1. Gray, W. M., Sheaffer, J. D. & Landsea, C. W. in Hurricanes: Climate and Socioeconomic Impacts (eds Diaz, H. F. & Pulwarty, R. S. ) 15–53 (Springer, 1997)

  2. Goldenberg, S. B., Landsea, C. W., Mestas-Nuñez, A. M. & Gray, W. M. The recent increase in Atlantic hurricane activity: causes and implications. Science 293, 474–479 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Mann, M. E. & Emanuel, K. A. Atlantic hurricane trends linked to climate change. Eos 87, 233–244 (2006)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Knutson, T. R. et al. Tropical cyclones and climate change. Nat. Geosci. 3, 157–163 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bindoff, N. L. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 867–952 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014)

  6. Walsh, K. J. E. et al. Tropical cyclones and climate change. WIREs Clim. Change 7, 65–89 (2016)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Emanuel, K. The hurricane–climate connection. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 89, ES10–ES20 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. DeMaria, M. The effect of vertical shear on tropical cyclone intensity change. J. Atmos. Sci. 53, 2076–2088 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Elsberry, R. L. & Jeffries, R. A. Vertical wind shear influences on tropical cyclone formation and intensification during TCM-92 and TCM-93. Mon. Weath. Rev. 124, 1374–1387 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wong, M. L. M. & Chan, J. C. L. Tropical cyclone intensity in vertical wind shear. J. Atmos. Sci. 61, 1859–1876 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Vimont, D. J. & Kossin, J. P. The Atlantic meridional mode and hurricane activity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L07709 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Kossin, J. P. & Vimont, D. J. A more general framework for understanding Atlantic hurricane variability and trends. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 88, 1767–1781 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Holland, G. J. Misuse of landfall as a proxy for Atlantic tropical cyclone activity. Eos Trans. AGU 88, 349–356 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Coughlin, K., Bellone, E., Leapple, T., Jewson, S. & Nzerem, K. A relationship between all Atlantic hurricanes and those that make landfall in the USA. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 135, 371–379 (2009)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Dailey, P. S., Zuba, G., Ljung, G., Dima, I. M. & Guin, J. On the relationship between North Atlantic sea surface temperatures and U.S. hurricane landfall risk. J. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol. 48, 111–129 (2009)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Vecchi, G. A. & Knutson, T. R. Estimating annual numbers of Atlantic hurricanes missing from the HURDAT database (1878–1965) using ship track density. J. Clim. 24, 1736–1746 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Villarini, G., Vecchi, G. A. & Smith, J. A. U.S. landfalling and North Atlantic hurricanes: statistical modeling of their frequencies and ratios. Mon. Weath. Rev. 140, 44–65 (2012)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Landsea, C. W. Comments on “Monitoring and understanding trends in extreme storms: state of knowledge.”. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1175–1176 (2015)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Kossin, J. P. et al. Reply to “Comment on ‘Monitoring and understanding trends in extreme storms: state of knowledge”’. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1177–1179 (2015)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kaplan, J. et al. Evaluating environmental impacts on tropical cyclone rapid intensification predictability utilizing statistical models. Weather Forecast. 30, 1374–1396 (2015)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Emanuel, K. Will global warming make hurricane forecasting more difficult? Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. (2016)

  22. McCarthy, G. D., Haigh, I. D., Hirschi, J.-M., Grist, J. P. & Smeed, D. A. Ocean impact on decadal Atlantic climate variability revealed by sea-level observations. Nature 521, 508–510 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Klotzbach, P., Gray, W. & Fogarty, C. Active Atlantic hurricane era at its end? Nat. Geosci. 8, 737–738 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Emanuel, K. Global warming effects on U.S. hurricane damage. Weather Clim. Soc. 3, 261–268 (2011)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hall, T. M. & Heried, K. The frequency and duration of U.S. hurricane droughts. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 3482–3485 (2015)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hart, R., Chavas, D. & Guishard, M. The arbitrary definition of the current Atlantic major hurricane landfall drought. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 97, 713–722 (2016)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Landsea, C. W. & Franklin, J. L. Atlantic hurricane database uncertainty and presentation of a new database format. Mon. Weath. Rev. 141, 3576–3592 (2013)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kossin, J. P., Olander, T. L. & Knapp, K. R. Trend analysis with a new global record of tropical cyclone intensity. J. Clim. 26, 9960–9976 (2013)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kalnay, E. The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 77, 437–471 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Huang, B. et al. Extended reconstructed sea surface temperature version 4 (ERSST.v4). Part I: upgrades and intercomparisons. J. Clim. 28, 911–930 (2015)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


NOAA_ERSST_V4 and NCEP reanalysis data were provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their website at HURDAT2 data were provided by the US National Hurricane Center at

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All analyses and writing were conducted by J.P.K.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James P. Kossin.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Holland and A. Sobel for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kossin, J. Hurricane intensification along United States coast suppressed during active hurricane periods. Nature 541, 390–393 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing