Enhanced poleward propagation of storms under climate change


Earth’s midlatitudes are dominated by regions of large atmospheric weather variability—often referred to as storm tracks— which influence the distribution of temperature, precipitation and wind in the extratropics. Comprehensive climate models forced by increased greenhouse gas emissions suggest that under global warming the storm tracks shift poleward. While the poleward shift is a robust response across most models, there is currently no consensus on what the underlying dynamical mechanism is. Here we present a new perspective on the poleward shift, which is based on a Lagrangian view of the storm tracks. We show that in addition to a poleward shift in the genesis latitude of the storms, associated with the shift in baroclinicity, the latitudinal displacement of cyclonic storms increases under global warming. This is  achieved by  applying a storm-tracking algorithm to an ensemble of CMIP5 models. The increased latitudinal propagation in a warmer climate is shown to be a result of stronger upper-level winds and increased atmospheric water vapour. These changes in the propagation characteristics of the storms can have a significant impact on midlatitude climate.

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Fig. 1: Ensemble-mean CMIP5 tracking statistics for the historical (1980–1999) storm tracks and the projected changes (2080–2099 minus historical).
Fig. 2: The historical (1980–1999) tracks of the low-level cyclones (850 hPa) for an CMIP5 example model, HadGEM-CC (model number 10 from Supplementary Table 1).
Fig. 3: Model-to-model variations in the projected differences of cyclonic tracks.
Fig. 4: Upper-level (250 h Pa) velocity composites produced by tracking the low-level (850 hPa) cyclonic vorticity features.


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The data were obtained from the World Data Center for Climate (WDCC). We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programmes Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Data) 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. The authors also thank K. Hodges for providing the tracking algorithm and his help with implementing it on the CMIP5 data. We also thank B. Stevens and M. Esch from the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology, for providing the high-temporal-resolution data necessary for the PV analysis. This research has been supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (grant 1819/16).

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T.T.-B. and Y.K. designed the study and wrote the paper; T.T.-B. performed the data analyses.

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Correspondence to Talia Tamarin-Brodsky.

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Tamarin-Brodsky, T., Kaspi, Y. Enhanced poleward propagation of storms under climate change. Nature Geosci 10, 908–913 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-017-0001-8

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