Correcting 19th and 20th century sea surface temperatures improves simulations of Atlantic hurricane activity

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Duo Chan, Gabriel A. Vecchi, Wenchang Yang , Peter Huybers


Changes in the statistics of North Atlantic hurricanes are known to depend upon the pattern of tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs). Dynamical and statistical models are key tools to predict future hurricane activity, with our confidence in this application rooted in the models’ ability to skillfully reproduce hurricane variations over the past 30-40 years, when satellite data allows accurate reconstruction of observed ocean temperature variations. Extending the evaluation of simulations forced with historical SSTs against hurricane activity to century scales provides a more complete assessment of predictive skill, but which is limited in part by uncertainty in historical SST estimates. Here we show that recent corrections for systematic offsets in bucket SST measurements improve model skill in reproducing North Atlantic hurricane counts and lead to consistent reproducibility since the late 19th century. Changes in hurricane frequency introduced by revising historical SST data are of similar magnitude to projected changes for 2081-2100 in response to increasing greenhouse gases, highlighting the importance of accurately assessing SST patterns for both the historical period and the future.



Atmospheric Sciences, Climate, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


bias correction, Hurricane, Sea surface temperature, Simulation


Published: 2020-08-20 19:14

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GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) 2.1

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Data Availability (Reason not available):
HadISST1 is freely available at hadisst/data/download.html. HadISST1b and tracked hurricanes in HiRAM simulations are available from the authors upon request and will be posted on Harvard Dataverse upon publication. Code required to reproduce key results presented in this manuscript are available from the authors upon request and will be posted on Github upon publication.

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