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.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Trade-off between intensity and frequency of global tropical cyclones


Global tropical cyclone climate has been investigated with indicators of frequency, intensity1 and activity2,3. However, a full understanding of global warming’s influence on tropical cyclone climate remains elusive because of the incomplete nature of these indicators. Here we form a complete three-dimensional variability space of tropical cyclone climate where the variabilities are continuously linked and find that global ocean warmth best explains the out-of-phase relationship between intensity and frequency of global tropical cyclones. In a year with greater ocean warmth, the tropical troposphere is capped by higher pressure anomaly in the middle and upper troposphere even with higher moist static energy anomaly in the lower troposphere, which is thought to inhibit overall tropical cyclone occurrences but lead to greater intensities. A statistical consequence is the trade-off between intensity and frequency. We calculate an average increase in global tropical cyclone intensity of 1.3 m s−1 over the past 30 years of ocean warming occurring at the expense of 6.1 tropical cyclones worldwide.

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

Access options

Buy this article

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

Figure 1: Schematic of a three-dimensional variability space.
Figure 2: Projection length of TC climate framework onto environmental framework.
Figure 3: Correlation profiles.
Figure 4: Influence of global ocean warming on the trade-off between intensity and frequency of global tropical cyclones.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Webster, P. J., Holland, G. J., Curry, J. A. & Chang, H-R. Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment. Science 309, 1844–1846 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Bell, G. D. et al. Climate assessment for 1999. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 81, s1–s50 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Natural Hazards, Unnatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention (World Bank, United Nations, 2010)

  5. Mendelsohn, R., Emanuel, K., Chonabayashi, S. & Bakkensen, L. The impact of climate change on global tropical cyclone damage. Nature Clim. Change 2, 205–209 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Christensen, J. H. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 1248–1251Ch. 14, (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Elsner, J. B., Kossin, J. P. & Jagger, T. H. The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones. Nature 455, 92–95 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Holland, G. & Bruyère, C. Recent intense hurricane response to global climate change. Clim. Dynam. 42, 617–627 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Kang, N-Y. & Elsner, J. B. An empirical framework for tropical cyclone climatology. Clim. Dynam. 39, 669–680 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Vecchi, G. A. et al. Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing. Nature 441, 73–76 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Chou, C., Wu, T-C. & Tan, P-H. Changes in gross moist stability in the tropics under global warming. Clim. Dynam. 41, 2481–2496 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Held, I. M. & Soden, B. J. Robust responses of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J. Clim. 19, 5686–5699 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 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).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Song, J-J., Wang, Y. & Wu, L. Trend discrepancies among three best track data sets of western North Pacific tropical cyclones. J. Geophys. Res. 115, D12128 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Knapp, K. R. & Kruk, M. C. Quantifying interagency differences in tropical cyclone best-track wind speed estimates. Mon. Weath. Rev. 38, 1459–1473 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dvorak, V. F. Applications Laboratory Training Notes (NOAA National Environmental Satellite Service, 1982)

  18. Velden, C. et al. The Dvorak tropical cyclone intensity estimation technique: A satellite-based method that has endured for over 30 years. Bull. Am. Meterol. Soc. 87, 1195–1210 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Dvorak, V. F. Tropical Cyclone Intensity Analysis Using Satellite Data Report no. 11 (NOAA Tech. Rep., 1984)

  20. Kang, N-Y. & Elsner, J. B. Consensus on climate trends in western North Pacific tropical cyclones. J. Clim. 25, 7564–7573 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute at the Florida State University (contribution number 471).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Authors contributed equally to planning, experiment, analysis and writing, with N-Y.K. being the lead author.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nam-Young Kang.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kang, NY., Elsner, J. Trade-off between intensity and frequency of global tropical cyclones. Nature Clim Change 5, 661–664 (2015).

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