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James P. Kossin
,
Timothy L. Olander
, and
Kenneth R. Knapp

Abstract

The historical global “best track” records of tropical cyclones extend back to the mid-nineteenth century in some regions, but formal analysis of these records is encumbered by temporal heterogeneities in the data. This is particularly problematic when attempting to detect trends in tropical cyclone metrics that may be attributable to climate change. Here the authors apply a state-of-the-art automated algorithm to a globally homogenized satellite data record to create a more temporally consistent record of tropical cyclone intensity within the period 1982–2009, and utilize this record to investigate the robustness of trends found in the best-track data. In particular, the lifetime maximum intensity (LMI) achieved by each reported storm is calculated and the frequency distribution of LMI is tested for changes over this period.

To address the unique issues in regions around the Indian Ocean, which result from a discontinuity introduced into the satellite data in 1998, a direct homogenization procedure is applied in which post-1998 data are degraded to pre-1998 standards. This additional homogenization step is found to measurably reduce LMI trends, but the global trends in the LMI of the strongest storms remain positive, with amplitudes of around +1 m s−1 decade−1 and p value = 0.1. Regional trends, in m s−1 decade−1, vary from −2 (p = 0.03) in the western North Pacific, +1.7 (p = 0.06) in the south Indian Ocean, +2.5 (p = 0.09) in the South Pacific, to +8 (p < 0.001) in the North Atlantic.

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