Climate Modulation of North Atlantic Hurricane Tracks

Kossin, James P.; Camargo, Suzana J.; Sitowski, Matthew

The variability of North Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane tracks, and its relationship to climate variability, is explored. Tracks from the North Atlantic hurricane database for the period 1950–2007 are objectively separated into four groups using a cluster technique that has been previously applied to tropical cyclones in other ocean basins. The four clusters form zonal and meridional separations of the tracks. The meridional separation largely captures the separation between tropical and more baroclinic systems, while the zonal separation segregates Gulf of Mexico and Cape Verde storms. General climatologies of the seasonality, intensity, landfall probability, and historical destructiveness of each cluster are documented, and relationships between cluster membership and climate variability across a broad spectrum of time scales are identified. Composites, with respect to cluster membership, of sea surface temperature and other environmental fields show that regional and remote modes of climate variability modulate the cluster members in substantially differing ways and further demonstrate that factors such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Atlantic meridional mode (AMM), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) have varying intrabasin influences on North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes. Relationships with African easterly waves are also considered. The AMM and ENSO are found to most strongly modulate the deep tropical systems, while the MJO most strongly modulates Gulf of Mexico storms and the NAO most strongly modulates storms that form to the north and west of their Cape Verde counterparts and closer to the NAO centers of action. Different clusters also contribute differently to the observed trends in North Atlantic storm frequency and may be related to intrabasin differences in sea surface temperature trends. Frequency trends are dominated by the deep tropical systems, which account for most of the major hurricanes and overall power dissipation. Contrarily, there are no discernable trends in the frequency of Gulf of Mexico storms, which account for the majority of landfalling storms. When the proportion that each cluster contributes to overall frequency is considered, there are clear shifts between the deep tropical systems and the more baroclinic systems. A shift toward proportionally more deep tropical systems began in the early to mid-1980s more than 10 years before the 1995 North Atlantic hurricane season, which is generally used to mark the beginning of the present period of heightened activity.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for kossin_camargo_sitkowski_jclim10.pdf kossin_camargo_sitkowski_jclim10.pdf application/x-pdf 3.64 MB Download File

Also Published In

Journal of Climate

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
June 2, 2015