Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Cover image for Vol. 119 Issue 16

Impact Factor: 3.44

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 24/173 (Geosciences Multidisciplinary)

Online ISSN: 2169-8996

Associated Title(s): Journal of Geophysical Research

Surge in North Atlantic hurricanes due to better detectors, not climate change


A spate of research has indicated there may be a link between climate change and the prevalence of North Atlantic tropical cyclones. Upon closer inspection, however, researchers have noted that the prominent upswing in tropical cyclone detections beginning in the midtwentieth century is attributable predominantly to the detection of 'shorties,' tropical cyclones with durations of less than 2 days. That the apparent surge in cyclone activity could be attributable to changes in the quality and quantity of detections has gained ground as a potential alternative explanation. Using a database of hurricane observations stretching back to 1878, Villarini et al. (2011) try to tease out any detectable climate signal from the records. The authors note that between 1878 and 1943 there were 0.58 shorty detections per year, and between 1944 and 2008 there were 2.58 shorty detections per year. This increase in shorties, which the authors propose may be related to the end of World War II and the dawn of air-based reconnaissance and weather tracking, was not mirrored by an increase in tropical cyclone activity for storms longer than 2 days. The authors compared the rate of shorty detections against a variety of climate parameters, including North Atlantic sea surface temperature, mean tropical sea surface temperature, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and the Southern Oscillation Index. The authors found that North Atlantic sea surface temperatures were related to tropical cyclones of longer than 2 days' duration but were not related to the rate of short detections. Additionally, for every decade after 1950s the occurrence of shorties seemed to be related to a different climate parameter. Both of these findings are highly suggestive of data quality problems for the shorties record. The researchers note that their finding does not rule out the possibility of a climate-driven increase in shorties over the twentieth century. Rather, any existing trend will be imperceptible, as it is masked by data quality issues.

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