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Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s

Abstract

Intensity changes in landfalling typhoons are of great concern to East and Southeast Asian countries1. Regional changes in typhoon intensity, however, are poorly known owing to inconsistencies among different data sets2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Here, we apply cluster analysis to bias-corrected data and show that, over the past 37 years, typhoons that strike East and Southeast Asia have intensified by 12–15%, with the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 having doubled or even tripled. In contrast, typhoons that stay over the open ocean have experienced only modest changes. These regional changes are consistent between operational data sets. To identify the physical mechanisms, we decompose intensity changes into contributions from intensification rate and intensification duration. We find that the increased intensity of landfalling typhoons is due to strengthened intensification rates, which in turn are tied to locally enhanced ocean surface warming on the rim of East and Southeast Asia. The projected ocean surface warming pattern under increasing greenhouse gas forcing suggests that typhoons striking eastern mainland China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan will intensify further. Given disproportionate damages by intense typhoons1, this represents a heightened threat to people and properties in the region.

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Figure 1: Temporal evolution of various typhoon intensity metrics.
Figure 2: Tracks and intensity evolution of typhoons in Cluster 1.
Figure 3: Tracks and intensity evolution of typhoons in Cluster 2.
Figure 4: Linear trends in potential intensity and SST.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to K. Emanuel for providing synthetic tropical cyclones simulated using a coupled downscaling tropical cyclone model. We also acknowledge the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 2) 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. This research was supported by NSF (1305719 and 1249145).

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W.M. conceived and designed the study, performed the analyses, and wrote the paper. S.-P.X. contributed to the development of the idea and the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Wei Mei.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Mei, W., Xie, SP. Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s. Nature Geosci 9, 753–757 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2792

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