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Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions

An Erratum to this article was published on 02 June 2008


Increasing sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and measures of Atlantic hurricane activity have been reported to be strongly correlated since at least 1950 (refs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), raising concerns that future greenhouse-gas-induced warming6 could lead to pronounced increases in hurricane activity. Models that explicitly simulate hurricanes are needed to study the influence of warming ocean temperatures on Atlantic hurricane activity, complementing empirical approaches. Our regional climate model of the Atlantic basin reproduces the observed rise in hurricane counts between 1980 and 2006, along with much of the interannual variability, when forced with observed sea surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions7. Here we assess, in our model system7, the changes in large-scale climate that are projected to occur by the end of the twenty-first century by an ensemble of global climate models8, and find that Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm frequencies are reduced. At the same time, near-storm rainfall rates increase substantially. Our results do not support the notion of large increasing trends in either tropical storm or hurricane frequency driven by increases in atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations.

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Figure 1: Model versus observed Atlantic hurricane counts and distributions of maximum tropical cyclone wind speeds.
Figure 2: Tropical storm/hurricane tracks (observed and simulated) for the ten least and most active years.
Figure 3: Frequency distribution of change (warm climate minus control) in storm counts for each year simulated.
Figure 4: Tropical storm/hurricane counts versus SSTs for the control and warm-climate runs.


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We thank the WCRP CMIP3 modelling groups for contributing their model runs, and PCMDI and the IPCC Data Archive at LLNL/DOE for providing ready access to the model data. We thank I. Orlanski, B. Gross, O. Pauluis, S. Malyshev, C. Kerr and A. Leetmaa for advice and assistance. This work was partially supported by NOAA/OGP and the NASA Columbia Supercomputing Project.

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Knutson, T., Sirutis, J., Garner, S. et al. Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions. Nature Geosci 1, 359–364 (2008).

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