The very limited instrumental record makes extensive analyses of the natural variability of global tropical cyclone activities difficult in most of the tropical cyclone basins. However, in the two regions where reasonably reliable records exist (the North Atlantic and the western North Pacific), substantial multidecadal variability (particularly for intense Atlantic hurricanes) is found, but there is no clear evidence of long-term trends. Efforts have been initiated to use geological and geomorphological records and analysis of oxygen isotope ratios in rainfall recorded in cave stalactites to establish a paleoclimate of tropical cyclones, but these have not yet produced definitive results. Recent thermodynamical estimation of the maximum potential intensities (MPI) of tropical cyclones shows good agreement with observations.
Although there are some uncertainties in these MPI approaches, such as their sensitivity to variations in parameters and failure to include some potentially important interactions such as ocean spray feedbacks, the response of upper-oceanic thermal structure, and eye and eyewall dynamics, they do appear to be an objective tool with which to predict present and future maxima of tropical cyclone intensity. Recent studies indicate the MPI of cyclones will remain the same or undergo a modest increase of up to 10%–20%. These predicted changes are small compared with the observed natural variations and fall within the uncertainty range in current studies. Furthermore, the known omissions (ocean spray, momentum restriction, and possibly also surface to 300-hPa lapse rate changes) could all operate to mitigate the predicted intensification.
A strong caveat must be placed on analysis of results from current GCM simulations of the “tropical-cyclone-like” vortices. Their realism, and hence prediction skill (and also that of “embedded” mesoscale models), is greatly limited by the coarse resolution of current GCMs and the failure to capture environmental factors that govern cyclone intensity. Little, therefore, can be said about the potential changes of the distribution of intensities as opposed to maximum achievable intensity. Current knowledge and available techniques are too rudimentary for quantitative indications of potential changes in tropical cyclone frequency.
The broad geographic regions of cyclogenesis and therefore also the regions affected by tropical cyclones are not expected to change significantly. It is emphasized that the popular belief that the region of cyclogenesis will expand with the 26°C SST isotherm is a fallacy. The very modest available evidence points to an expectation of little or no change in global frequency. Regional and local frequencies could change substantially in either direction, because of the dependence of cyclone genesis and track on other phenomena (e.g., ENSO) that are not yet predictable. Greatly improved skills from coupled global ocean–atmosphere models are required before improved predictions are possible.
*Chancellory, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
+Mesoscale Meteorology Research Group, BMRC, Melbourne, Australia.
#Reinsurance/Research and Development, Munich Reinsurance Company, Munich, Germany.
@Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
&Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
**NOAA AOML/Hurricane Research Division, Miami, Florida.
++Department of Mathematics, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
##National Taiwan University/Central Weather Bureau, Taipei, Taiwan.
@@Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.