The Poleward Migration of Tropical Cyclone Peak Intensity

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:15 AM
James P Kossin, NOAA Asheville, Asheville, NC, United States, Kerry Emanuel, MIT, Cambridge, MA, United States and Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, NJ, United States
Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder detection of trends in tropical cyclone metrics. This limits the confident evaluation of proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and we uncover a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude where tropical cyclones have reached their peak intensities over the past 30 years. The poleward trends are evident in the global historical data in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres with rates of 53 and 62 km per decade, respectively, and are statistically significant. When considered together, the trends in each hemisphere depict a global-average expansion of tropical cyclone activity away from the tropics at a rate of about 1° latitude per decade, which lies within the range of estimates of the independently-observed expansion of the tropics over this same period. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure and is unlikely to be a data artifact. The migration away from the tropics is apparently linked to marked changes in the mean meridional structure of environmental vertical wind shear and potential intensity and can be plausibly linked to tropical expansion (as related to Hadley circulation expansion), which is generally thought to be driven largely by anthropogenic factors.