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.

Twenty-first-century projections of North Atlantic tropical storms from CMIP5 models


Assessing potential changes in North Atlantic (NA) tropical storm (TS) activity this century is of paramount societal and economic significance, and the topic of intense scientific research1. We explore projections of NA TS changes over the twenty-first century by applying a statistical downscaling methodology2,3 to a suite of experiments with the latest state-of-the-art global coupled climate models4. We also apply a methodology5 to partition the dominant sources of uncertainty in the TS projections. We find that over the first half of the twenty-first century radiative forcing changes act to increase NA TS frequency; this increase arises from radiative forcings other than increasing CO2 (probably aerosols). However, NA TS trends over the entire twenty-first century are of ambiguous sign. We find that for NA TS frequency, in contrast to sea surface temperature (SST), the largest uncertainties are driven by the chaotic nature of the climate system and by the climate response to radiative forcing. These results highlight the need to better understand the processes controlling patterns of SST change in response to radiative forcing and internal climate variability to constrain estimates of future NA TS activity. Coordinated experiments isolating forcing agents in projections should improve our understanding, and would enable better assessment of future TS activity.

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

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Twenty-first-century projections of SST and NA TS frequency using CMIP5.
Figure 2: Slopes of the regression lines for three periods (2006–2050, 2051–2100 and 2006–2100) for NA TS frequency derived from the SST projections using 17 global climate models and the three CMIP5 scenarios (RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5).
Figure 3: Fractional contribution to uncertainties in CMIP5 projections of SST and TS frequency.
Figure 4: Total uncertainty in CMIP5 projections of SST and TS frequency.

Similar content being viewed by others


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

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Villarini, G., Vecchi, G. A. & Smith, J. A. Modeling of the dependence of tropical storm counts in the North Atlantic Basin on climate indices. Mon. Weath. Rev. 138, 2681–2705 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Villarini, G., Vecchi, G. A., Knutson, T. R., Zhao, M. & Smith, J. A. North Atlantic tropical storm frequency response to anthropogenic forcing: Projections and sources of uncertainty. J. Clim. 24, 3224–3238 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. The potential to narrow uncertainty in regional climate predictions. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 90, 1095–1107 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Sobel, A. H., Held, I. M. & Bretherton, C. S. The ENSO signal in tropical tropospheric temperature. J. Clim. 15, 2702–2706 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Emanuel, K. Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature 436, 686–688 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Latif, M., Keenlyside, N. & Bader, J. Tropical sea surface temperature, vertical wind shear, and hurricane development. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L01710 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Vecchi, G. A. & Soden, B. J. Effect of remote sea surface temperature change on tropical cyclone potential intensity. Nature 450, 1066–1071 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Ramsay, H. A. & Sobel, A. H. Effects of relative and absolute sea surface temperature on tropical cyclone potential intensity using a single-column model. J. Clim. 24, 183–193 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Vecchi, G. A., Swanson, K. L. & Soden, B. J. Whither hurricane activity? Science 322, 687–689 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Donner, L. J. et al. The dynamical core, physical parameterizations, and basic simulation characteristics of the atmospheric component AM3 of the GFDL Global Coupled Model CM3. J. Clim. 24, 3484–3519 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Mann, M. E. & Emanuel, K. A. Atlantic hurricane trends linked to climate change. Eos Trans. Am. Geophys. Union 87, 233 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Zhang, R. & Delworth, T. L. Impact of Atlantic multidecadal oscillations on India/Sahel rainfall and Atlantic hurricanes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L17712 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Zhang, R. & Delworth, T. L. A new method for attributing climate variations over the Atlantic Hurricane Basin’s main development region. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L06701 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Oouchi, K. et al. Tropical cyclone climatology in a global warming climate as simulated in a 20-km-mesh global atmospheric model: Frequency and wind intensity analysis. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn 84, 259–276 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Bender, M. A. et al. Model impact of anthropogenic warming on the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes. Science 327, 454–458 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Bengtsson, L. et al. How may tropical cyclones change in a warmer climate? Tellus 59A, 539–561 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Gualdi, S., Scoccimarro, E. & Navarra, A. Changes in tropical cyclone activity due to global warming: Results from a high-resolution coupled general circulation model. J. Clim. 21, 5204–5228 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Emanuel, K., Sundararajan, R. & Williams, J. Hurricanes and global warming—results from downscaling IPCC AR4 simulations. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 89, 347–367 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Knutson, T. R., Sirutis, J. J., Garner, S. T., Vecchi, G. A. & Held, I. Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions. Nature Geosci. 1, 359–364 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Sugi, M., Murakami, H. & Yoshimura, J. A reduction in global tropical cyclone frequency due to global warming. SOLA 5, 164–167 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Zhao, M., Held, I. M., Lin, S. J. & Vecchi, G. A. Simulations of global hurricane climatology, interannual variability, and response to global warming using a 50-km-resolution GCM. J. Clim. 22, 6653–6678 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Villarini, G. & Vecchi, G. A. North Atlantic Power Dissipation Index (PDI) and Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE): Statistical modeling and sensitivity to sea surface temperature changes. J. Clim. 25, 625–637 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Emanuel, K. Tropical cyclone activity downscaled from NOAA-CIRES Reanalysis, 1908–1958. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 2, 1–12 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hawkins, E. & Sutton, R. The potential to narrow uncertainty in projections of regional precipitation change. Clim. Dynam. 37, 407–418 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Xie, S-P. et al. Global warming pattern formation: Sea surface temperature and rainfall. J. Clim. 23, 966–986 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Smith, T. M., Reynolds, R. W., Peterson, T. C. & Lawrimore, J. Improvements to NOAA’s historical merged land–ocean surface temperature analysis (1880–2006). J. Clim. 21, 2283–2296 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. McAdie, C., Landsea, C., Neumann, C. J., David, J. E. & Blake, E. S. Tropical Cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean, 1851–2006 (with 2007 and 2008 track maps included.) (Natl Clim. Data Cent., 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Landsea, C. W., Vecchi, G. A., Bengtsson, L. & Knutson, T. R. Impact of duration thresholds on Atlantic tropical cyclone counts. J. Clim. 23, 2508–2519 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful for comments from K. Dixon, I. Held, A. Johansson and R. Msadek. We also acknowledge useful comments by K. Emanuel. We are grateful to L. Donner and L. Horowitz for making perturbation experiments with GFDL-CM3 available to us. This work was partly supported by the Willis Research Network. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Both authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper and to the writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriele Villarini.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests. However, in the interest of transparency, we confirm that Gabriele Villarini was funded through the Willis Research Network, which is part of the Willis Group. The results of this work were not influenced by possible financial gains or losses by the Willis Group.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Villarini, G., Vecchi, G. Twenty-first-century projections of North Atlantic tropical storms from CMIP5 models. Nature Clim Change 2, 604–607 (2012).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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