Changes in storm tracks and energy transports in a warmer climate simulated by the GFDL CM2.1 model

Wu, Yutian; Ting, Mingfang; Seager, Richard; Huang, Huei-Ping; Cane, Mark A.

Storm tracks play a major role in regulating the precipitation and hydrological cycle in midlatitudes. The changes in the location and amplitude of the storm tracks in response to global warming will have significant impacts on the poleward transport of heat, momentum and moisture and on the hydrological cycle. Recent studies have indicated a poleward shift of the storm tracks and the midlatitude precipitation zone in the warming world that will lead to subtropical drying and higher latitude moistening. This study agrees with this key feature for not only the annual mean but also different seasons and for the zonal mean as well as horizontal structures based on the analysis of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) CM2.1 model simulations. Further analyses show that the meridional sensible and latent heat fluxes associated with the storm tracks shift poleward and intensify in both boreal summer and winter in the late twenty-first century (years 2081-2100) relative to the latter half of the twentieth century (years 1961-2000). The maximum dry Eady growth rate is examined to determine the effect of global warming on the time mean state and associated available potential energy for transient growth. The trend in maximum Eady growth rate is generally consistent with the poleward shift and intensification of the storm tracks in the middle latitudes of both hemispheres in both seasons. However, in the lower troposphere in northern winter, increased meridional eddy transfer within the storm tracks is more associated with increased eddy velocity, stronger correlation between eddy velocity and eddy moist static energy, and longer eddy length scale. The changing characteristics of baroclinic instability are, therefore, needed to explain the storm track response as climate warms. Diagnosis of the latitude-by-latitude energy budget for the current and future climate demonstrates how the coupling between radiative and surface heat fluxes and eddy heat and moisture transport influences the midlatitude storm track response to global warming. Through radiative forcing by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor, more energy is gained within the tropics and subtropics, while in the middle and high latitudes energy is reduced through increased outgoing terrestrial radiation in the Northern Hemisphere and increased ocean heat uptake in the Southern Hemisphere. This enhanced energy imbalance in the future climate requires larger atmospheric energy transports in the midlatitudes which are partially accomplished by intensified storm tracks. Finally a sequence of cause and effect for the storm track response in the warming world is proposed that combines energy budget constraints with baroclinic instability theory.


Also Published In

Climate Dynamics

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
June 20, 2011