Extratropical cyclones are storm systems that are observed to travel preferentially within confined regions known as storm tracks. They contribute to precipitation, wind and temperature extremes in mid-latitudes. Cyclones tend to form where surface temperature gradients are large, and the jet stream influences their speed and direction of travel. Storm tracks shape the global climate through transport of energy and momentum. The intensity and location of storm tracks varies seasonally, and in response to other natural variations, such as changes in tropical sea surface temperature. A hierarchy of numerical models of the atmosphere–ocean system — from highly idealized to comprehensive — has been used to study and predict responses of storm tracks to anthropogenic climate change. The future position and intensity of storm tracks depend on processes that alter temperature gradients. However, different processes can have opposing influences on temperature gradients, which leads to a tug of war on storm track responses and makes future projections more difficult. For example, as climate warms, surface shortwave cloud radiative changes increase the Equator-to-pole temperature gradient, but at the same time, longwave cloud radiative changes reduce this gradient. Future progress depends on understanding and accurately quantifying the relative influence of such processes on the storm tracks.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $14.08 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Hoskins, B. J. & Hodges, K. New perspectives on the Northern Hemisphere winter storm tracks. J. Atmos. Sci. 59, 1041–1061 (2002).
Hoskins, B. J. & Hodges, K. A new perspective on Southern Hemisphere storm tracks. J. Clim. 18, 4108–4129 (2005).
Chang, K. M., Lee, S. & Swanson, K. L. Storm track dynamics. J. Clim. 15, 2163–2183 (2002).
Pfahl, S., Madonna, E., Boettcher, M., Joos, H. & Wernli, H. Warm conveyor belts in the ERA-Interim dataset (1979–2010). Part II: Moisture origin and relevance for precipitation. J. Clim. 27, 27–40 (2014).
Catto, J. L. & Pfahl, S. The importance of fronts for extreme precipitation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 10791–10801 (2013).
Dacre, H. F., Clark, P. A., Martinez-Alvarado, O., Stringer, M. A. & Lavers, D. A. How do atmospheric rivers form? Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1243–1255 (2015).
Roberts J. F. et al. The XWS open access catalogue of extreme European windstorms from 1979 to 2012. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 14, 2487–2501 (2014).
Catto, J. L., Shaffrey, L. C. & Hodges, K. I. Can climate models capture the structure of extratropical cyclones? J. Clim. 23, 1621–1635 (2010).
Baker, L. H., Gray, S. L. & Clark P. Idealised simulations of sting-jet cyclones. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 140, 96–110 (2014).
Fink, A. H., Brucher, T., Ermert, V. Kruger, A. & Pinto, J. G. The European storm Kyrill in January 2007: synoptic evolution, meteorological impacts and some considerations with respect to climate change. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 9, 405–423 (2009).
Pfahl, S. & Wernli, H. Quantifying the relevance of atmospheric blocking for co-located temperature extremes in the Northern Hemisphere on (sub-)daily time scales. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L12807 (2012).
Bieli, M., Pfahl, S. & Wernli, H. A Lagrangian investigation of hot and cold temperature extremes in Europe. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 141, 98–108 (2015).
Loikith, P. C. & Broccoli, A. J. Characteristics of observed atmospheric circulation patterns associated with temperature extremes over North America. J. Clim. 25, 7266–7281 (2012).
Trenberth, K. E. & Stepaniak, D. P. Covariability of poleward atmospheric energy transports on seasonal and interannual timescales. J. Clim. 16, 3691–3705 (2003).
Schneider, T. The general circulation of the atmosphere. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 34, 655–688 (2006).
Bony, S. et al. Clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity. Nat. Geosci. 8, 261–268 (2015).
Grotjahn, R. in Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences (eds Holton, J. R., Pyle, J. & Curry, J. A.) 179–188 (Academic, 2003).
Eady, E. Long waves and cyclone waves. Tellus 1, 33–52 (1949).
Hoskins, B. J. & Ambrizzi, T. Rossby wave propagation on a realistic longitudinally varying flow. J. Atmos. Sci. 50, 1661–1671 (1993).
Sanders, F. Analytic solutions of the non-linear omega and vorticity equation for a structurally simple model of disturbances in the baroclinic westerlies. Mon. Weath. Rev. 99, 393–407 (1971).
Hoskins, B. J., James, I. N. & White, G. H. The shape, propagation and mean-flow interaction of large-scale weather systems. J. Atmos. Sci. 40, 1595–1612 (1983).
Edmon, H. J., Hoskins, B. J. & McIntyre, M. E. Eliassen–Palm cross sections for the troposphere. J. Atmos. Sci. 37, 2600–2616 (1980).
Vallis, G. K., Gerber, E. P., Kushner, P. J. & Cash, B. A. A mechanism and simple dynamical model of the North Atlantic Oscillation and annular modes. J. Atmos. Sci. 61, 264–280 (2004).
Davies, H. C., Schär, C. & Wernli, H. The palette of fronts and cyclones within a baroclinic wave development. J. Atmos. Sci. 48, 1666–1689 (1991).
Kushner, P. J & Held, I. M. A test using atmospheric data, of a method for estimating oceanic eddy diffusivity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, 4213–4216 (1998).
Hoskins, B. J. & Valdes, P. J. On the existence of storm tracks. J. Atmos. Sci. 47, 1854–1864 (1990).
Shaw, T. A. On the role of planetary-scale waves in the abrupt seasonal transition of the Northern Hemisphere general circulation. J. Atmos. Sci. 71, 1724–1746 (2014).
Lindzen, R. S. & Hou, A. V. Hadley circulations for zonally averaged heating centered off the Equator. J. Atmos. Sci. 45, 2416–2427 (1988).
Son, S.-W. & Lee, S. The response of westerly jets to thermal driving in a primitive equation model. J. Atmos. Sci. 62, 3741–3757 (2005).
Brayshaw, D. J., Hoskins, B. & Blackburn, M. The storm-track response to idealized SST perturbations in an aquaplanet GCM. J. Atmos. Sci. 65, 2842–2860 (2008).
Li, C. & Wettstein, J. J. Thermally driven and eddy-driven jet variability in reanalysis. J. Clim. 25, 1587–1596 (2012).
Nakamura, H., Sampe, T., Goto, A., Ohfuchi, W. & Xie, S.-P. On the importance of midlatitude oceanic frontal zones for the mean state and dominant variability in the tropospheric circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L15709 (2008).
Czaja, A. & Blunt, N. A new mechanism for ocean–atmosphere coupling in midlatitudes. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 1095–1101 (2011).
Kaspi, Y. & Schneider, T. The role of stationary eddies in shaping midlatitude storm tracks. J. Atmos. Sci. 70, 2596–2613 (2013).
Held, I., Ting, M. & Wang, H. Northern winter stationary waves: theory and modeling. J. Clim. 15, 2125–2144 (2002).
Shaw, T. A., Perlwitz, J. & Weiner, O. Troposphere–stratosphere coupling: links to North Atlantic weather and climate, including their representation in CMIP5 models. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos. 119, 5864–5880 (2014).
Hartmann, D. L. The atmospheric general circulation and its variability. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn 85, 123–143 (2007).
Thompson, D. W. & Barnes, E. A. Periodic variability in the large-scale Southern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation. Science 343, 641–645 (2014).
Ambaum, M. H. & Novak, L. A nonlinear oscillator describing storm track variability. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 140, 2680–2684 (2014).
Thompson, D. W. J. et al. Signatures of the Antarctic ozone hole in Southern Hemisphere surface climate change. Nature Geosci. 4, 741–749 (2011).
Kidston, J. et al. Stratospheric influence on tropospheric jet streams, storm tracks and surface weather. Nature Geosci. 8, 433–440 (2015).
Palmer, T. N. & Mansfield, D. A. Response of two atmospheric general circulation models to sea-surface temperature anomalies in the tropical East and West Pacific. Nature 310, 483–485 (1984).
Cassou, C. Intraseasonal interaction between the Madden–Julian Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Nature 455, 523–527 (2008).
Baggett, C. & Lee, S. Arctic warming induced by tropically forced tapping of available potential energy and the role of the planetary-scale waves. J. Atmos. Sci. 72, 1562–1568 (2015).
Drouard, M., Rivière, G. & Arbogast, P. The link between the North Pacific climate variability and the North Atlantic Oscillation via downstream propagation of synoptic waves. J. Clim. 28, 3957–3976 (2015).
Barnes, E. A. & Screen, J. A. The impact of Arctic warming on the midlatitude jet-stream: Can it? Has it? Will it? Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 6, 277–286 (2015).
Merz, N., Raible, C. C. & Woollings, T. North Atlantic eddy-driven jet in interglacial and glacial winter climates. J. Clim. 28, 3977–3997 (2015).
Lee, S. & Feldstein, S. B. Detecting ozone- and greenhouse gas-driven wind trends with observational data. Science 339, 563–567 (2013).
Grise, K. M., Son, S.-W., Correa, G. J. P. & Polvani, L. M. The response of extratropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere to stratospheric ozone depletion in the 20th century. Atmos. Sci. Lett. 15, 29–36 (2014).
Gerber, E. P. & Son, S.-W. Quantifying the summertime response of the austral jet stream and Hadley cell to stratospheric ozone and greenhouse gases. J. Clim. 27, 5538–5559 (2014).
Vallis, G. K., Zurita-Gotor, P., Cairns, C. & Kidston, J. Response of the large-scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 141, 1479–1501 (2014).
Butler, A. H., Thompson, D. W. J. & Heikes, R. The steady-state atmospheric circulation response to climate change-like thermal forcings in a simple general circulation model. J. Clim. 23, 3474–3496 (2010).
Mbengue, C. & Schneider, T. Storm track shifts under climate change: what can be learned from large-scale dry dynamics. J. Clim. 26, 9923–9930 (2014).
Lu, J., Sun, L., Wu, Y. & Chen, G. The role of subtropical irreversible PV mixing in the zonal mean circulation response to global-warming like thermal forcing. J. Clim. 27, 2297–2316 (2014).
Harvey, B. J., Shaffrey, L. C. & Woollings, T. J. Deconstructing the climate change response of the Northern Hemisphere wintertime storm tracks. Clim. Dynam. 45, 2847–2860 (2015).
Deser, C., Tomas, R. A. & Sun, L. The role of ocean–atmosphere coupling in the zonal-mean atmospheric response to Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 28, 2168–2186 (2015).
Held, I. M. & Soden, B. J. Robust responses of the hydrological cycle to global warming. J. Clim. 19, 5686–5699 (2006).
Hwang, Y.-T. & Frierson, D. M. W. Corrigendum to Held and Soden (2006). J. Clim. 24, 1569–1560 (2011).
O'Gorman, P. A. Understanding the varied response of the extratropical storm tracks to climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 19176–19180 (2010).
Shaw, T. A. & Voigt, A. Tug of war on the summertime circulation between radiative forcing and sea surface warming. Nature Geosci. 8, 560–566 (2015).
Simpson, I. R., Shaw, T. A & Seager, R. A diagnosis of the seasonally and longitudinally varying midlatitude circulation response to global warming. J. Atmos. Sci. 71, 2489–2515 (2014).
Chang, E. K. M., Guo, Y. & Xia, X. CMIP5 multimodel ensemble projection of storm track change under global warming. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos. 117, D23118 (2012).
Chang, E. K. M., Zheng, C, Lanigan, P., Yau, M. & Neelin, J. D. Significant modulation of variability and projected change in California winter precipitation by extratropical cyclone activity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 5983–5991 (2015).
Zappa, G., Shaffrey, L. C., Hodges, K. I., Sansom, P. G. & Stephenson, D. B. A multimodel assessment of future projections of the North Atlantic and European extratropical cyclones in the CMIP5 climate models. J. Clim. 26, 5846–5862 (2013).
Hoskins, B. J. & Woolings, T. Persistent extratropical regimes and climate extremes. Curr. Clim. Change Rep. 1, 115–124 (2015).
Woollings, T. Dynamical influences on European climate: an uncertain future. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 368, 3733–3756 (2010).
Pfahl, S., O'Gorman, P. A. & Singh, M. S. Extratropical cyclones in idealized simulations of changed climates. J. Clim. 28, 9373–9392 (2015).
Christensen, J. H. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 14 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Willison, J., Robinson, W. A. & Lackmann, G. M. North Atlantic storm-track sensitivity to warming increases with model resolution. J. Clim. 28, 4513–4524 (2015).
Emori, S. & Brown, S. J. Dynamic and thermodynamic changes in mean and extreme precipitation under changed climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L17706 (2005).
O'Gorman, P. A. & Schneider, T. The physical basis for increases in precipitation extremes in simulations of 21st-century climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 14773–14777 (2009).
Lu, J. et al. The robust dynamical contribution to precipitation extremes in idealized warming simulations across model resolutions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 2971–2978 (2014).
Bindoff, N. L. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 10.6 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Schneider, T., Bischoff, T. & Plotka, H. Physics of changes in synoptic midlatitude temperature variability. J. Clim. 28, 2312–2331 (2015).
Gastineau, G. & Soden, B. J. Model projected changes of extreme wind events in response to global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L10810 (2009).
Deser, C., Phillips, A., Bourdette, V. & Teng, H. Uncertainty in climate change projections: the role of internal variability. Clim. Dynam. 38, 527–546 (2012).
Collins, M. et al. Quantifying future climate change. Nature Clim. Change 2, 403–409 (2012).
Booth, J. F., Wang, S. & Polvani, L. M. Midlatitude storms in a moister world: lessons from idealized baroclinic life cycle experiments. Clim. Dynam. 41, 787–802 (2013).
O'Gorman, P. A. The effective static stability experienced by eddies in a moist atmosphere. J. Atmos. Sci. 68, 75–90 (2011).
Schneider, T., O'Gorman, P. A. & Levine, X. J. Water vapor and the dynamics of climate changes. Rev. Geophys. 48, RG3001 (2010).
Houze, R. A. Jr Cloud Dynamics (Academic, 2014).
Field, P. R. & Wood, R. Precipitation and cloud structure in midlatitude cyclones. J. Clim. 20, 233–254 (2007).
Allan, R. P. Combining satellite data and models to estimate cloud radiative effect at the surface and in the atmosphere. Meteorol. Appl. 18, 324–333 (2011).
Slingo, A. & Slingo, J. M. The response of a general circulation model to cloud longwave radiative forcing. I: Introduction and initial experiments. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 114, 1027–1062 (1988).
Li, Y., Thompson, D. W. & Bony, S. The influence of atmospheric cloud radiative effects on the large-scale atmospheric circulation. J. Clim. 28, 7263–7278 (2015).
Ceppi, P. & Hartmann, D. L. Connections between clouds, radiation, and midlatitude dynamics: a review. Curr. Clim. Change Rep. 1, 94–102 (2015).
Li, Y., Thompson, D. W., Huang, Y. & Zhang, M. Observed linkages between the Northern Annular Mode/North Atlantic Oscillation, cloud incidence, and cloud radiative forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 1681–1688 (2014).
Grise, K. M. & Polvani, L. M. Southern Hemisphere cloud-dynamics biases in CMIP5 models and their implications for climate projections. J. Clim. 27, 6074–6092 (2014).
Shepherd, T. G. Atmospheric circulation as a source of uncertainty in climate change projections. Nature Geosci. 7, 703–708 (2014).
Voigt, A. & Shaw, T. A. Circulation response to warming shaped by radiative changes of clouds and water vapour. Nature Geosci. 8, 102–106 (2015).
Ceppi, P. & Hartmann, D. L. Clouds and the atmospheric circulation response to warming. J. Clim. 29, 783–799 (2016).
Weatherald, R. T. & Manabe, S. Cloud feedback processes in a general circulation model. J. Atmos. Sci. 45, 1397–1416 (1988).
Held, I. M. The gap between simulation and understanding in climate modeling. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 86, 1609–1614 (2005).
Blackburn, M. & Hoskins, B. J. Context and aims of the aqua-planet experiment. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn 91A, 1–15 (2013).
Philips, N. A. The general circulation of the atmosphere: a numerical experiment. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 82, 123–164 (1956).
Held, I. M. & Suarez, M. J. A proposal for the intercomparison of the dynamical cores of atmospheric general circulation models. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 75, 1825–1830 (1994).
Frierson, D. M. W., Held, I. M. & Zurita-Gotor, P. A gray-radiation aquaplanet moist GCM. Part I: Static stability and eddy scale. J. Atmos. Sci. 63, 2548–2566 (2006).
O'Gorman, P. A. & Schneider, T. The hydrological cycle over a wide range of climates simulated with an idealized GCM. J. Clim. 21, 3815–3832 (2008).
Kinter, J. L. et al. Revolutionizing climate modeling with Project Athena. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, 231–245 (2013).
Hanley, J. & Caballero, R. Objective identification and tracking of multicentre cyclones in the ERA-interim reanalysis datasat. Quart. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 138, 612–625 (2012).
T.A.S. and A.V. are supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. T.A.S is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (T.A.S., AGS-1538944; P.A.O., AGS-1148594; E.A.B., AGS-1419818). The National Center for Atmospheric Research is also supported by the National Science Foundation. Y.T.H. is supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan (104-2111-M-002-005). C.I.G. is supported by Israel Science Foundation (1558/14). C.L. is supported by Research Council of Norway project jetSTREAM (231716). We thank participants of the World Climate Research Program's Stratosphere–troposphere processes and their Role in Climate Workshop on the Storm Tracks. We thank S. Pfahl for Fig. 2 and the reviewers whose comments helped to significantly improve the submitted manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Shaw, T., Baldwin, M., Barnes, E. et al. Storm track processes and the opposing influences of climate change. Nature Geosci 9, 656–664 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2783
Journal of Coastal Research (2020)
Geophysical Research Letters (2020)
Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences (2020)
An Evaluation of the Large‐Scale Atmospheric Circulation and Its Variability in CESM2 and Other CMIP Models
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (2020)
Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences (2020)