Explosive cyclones in CMIP5 climate models

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Christian Seiler and Francis W Zwiers, University of Victoria, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Explosive cyclones are rapidly intensifying low pressure systems with severe wind speeds and precipitation, affecting livelihoods and infrastructure primarily in coastal and marine environments. A better understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on these so called meteorological bombs is therefore of great societal relevance. This study evaluates how well CMIP5 climate models reproduce explosive cyclones in the extratropics of the northern hemisphere, and how these bombs respond to global warming. For this purpose an objective-feature tracking algorithm was used to identify and track extratropical cyclones from 25 CMIP5 models and 3 reanalysis products for the periods 1980 to 2005 and 2070 to 2099. Cyclones were identified as the maxima of T42 vorticity of 6h wind speed at 850 hPa. Explosive and non-explosive cyclones were separated based on the corresponding deepening rates of mean sea level pressure. Most models accurately reproduced the spatial distribution of bombs when compared to results from reanalysis data (R2 = 0.84, p-value = 0.00), with high frequencies along the Kuroshio Current and the Gulf Stream, as well as the exit regions of the polar jet streaks. Most models however significantly underestimated bomb frequencies by a third on average, and by 74% in the most extreme case. This negative frequency bias coincided with significant underestimations of either meridional sea surface temperature (SST) gradients, or wind speeds of the polar jet streaks. Bomb frequency biases were significantly correlated with the number vertical model levels (R2= 0.36, p-value = 0.001), suggesting that the vertical atmospheric model resolution is crucial for simulating bomb frequencies accurately. The impacts of climate change on the location, frequency, and intensity of explosive cyclones were then explored for the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5. Projections were related to model bias, resolution, projected changes of SST gradients, and wind speeds of the polar jet stream.