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Degree of simulated suppression of Atlantic tropical cyclones modulated by flavour of El Niño

Nature Geoscience volume 9, pages 155160 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the dominant mode of interannual climate variability, strongly influences tropical cyclone activity. During canonical El Niño, the warm phase, Atlantic tropical cyclones are suppressed. However, the past decades have witnessed different El Niño characteristics, ranging from warming over the east Pacific cold tongue in canonical events to warming near the warm pool, known as warm pool El Niño or central Pacific El Niño. Global climate models project possible future increases in intensity of warm pool El Niño. Here we use a climate model at a resolution sufficient to explicitly simulate tropical cyclones to investigate how these flavours of El Niño may affect such cyclones. We show that Atlantic tropical cyclones are suppressed regardless of El Niño type. For the warmest 10% of each El Niño flavour, warm pool El Niño is substantially less effective at suppressing Atlantic tropical cyclones than cold tongue El Niño. However, for the same absolute warming intensity, the opposite is true. This is because less warming is required near the warm pool to satisfy the sea surface temperature threshold for deep convection, which leads to tropical cyclone suppression through vertical wind shear enhancements. We conclude that an understanding of future changes in not only location, but also intensity and frequency, of El Niño is important for forecasts and projections of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by US National Science Foundation Grant AGS-1347808 and used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is supported by National Science Foundation Grant ACI-1053575. P.C. acknowledges the support from the National Program on Key Basic Research Project (973 Program) no. 2013CB956204 and no. 2014CB745000. High-performance computing resources were provided by the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin and by the Texas A&M Supercomputing Facility.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843, USA

    • Christina M. Patricola
    • , Ping Chang
    •  & R. Saravanan
  2. Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843, USA

    • Ping Chang
  3. Physical Oceanography Laboratory/Qingdao Collaborative Innovation Center of Marine Science and Technology, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China

    • Ping Chang

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Contributions

All authors contributed to designing the project, interpreting the results, and improving the paper. C.M.P. carried out the model simulations and analysis and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christina M. Patricola.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2624

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