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Thomas R. Knutson, Joseph J. Sirutis, Ming Zhao, Robert E. Tuleya, Morris Bender, Gabriel A. Vecchi, Gabriele Villarini, and Daniel Chavas


Global projections of intense tropical cyclone activity are derived from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) High Resolution Atmospheric Model (HiRAM; 50-km grid) and the GFDL hurricane model using a two-stage downscaling procedure. First, tropical cyclone genesis is simulated globally using HiRAM. Each storm is then downscaled into the GFDL hurricane model, with horizontal grid spacing near the storm of 6 km, including ocean coupling (e.g., “cold wake” generation). Simulations are performed using observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) (1980–2008) for a “control run” with 20 repeating seasonal cycles and for a late-twenty-first-century projection using an altered SST seasonal cycle obtained from a phase 5 of CMIP (CMIP5)/representative concentration pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5) multimodel ensemble. In general agreement with most previous studies, projections with this framework indicate fewer tropical cyclones globally in a warmer late-twenty-first-century climate, but also an increase in average cyclone intensity, precipitation rates, and the number and occurrence days of very intense category 4 and 5 storms. While these changes are apparent in the globally averaged tropical cyclone statistics, they are not necessarily present in each individual basin. The interbasin variation of changes in most of the tropical cyclone metrics examined is directly correlated to the variation in magnitude of SST increases between the basins. Finally, the framework is shown to be capable of reproducing both the observed global distribution of outer storm size—albeit with a slight high bias—and its interbasin variability. Projected median size is found to remain nearly constant globally, with increases in most basins offset by decreases in the northwest Pacific.

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Thomas R. Knutson, Joseph J. Sirutis, Gabriel A. Vecchi, Stephen Garner, Ming Zhao, Hyeong-Seog Kim, Morris Bender, Robert E. Tuleya, Isaac M. Held, and Gabriele Villarini


Twenty-first-century projections of Atlantic climate change are downscaled to explore the robustness of potential changes in hurricane activity. Multimodel ensembles using the phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3)/Special Report on Emissions Scenarios A1B (SRES A1B; late-twenty-first century) and phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5)/representative concentration pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5; early- and late-twenty-first century) scenarios are examined. Ten individual CMIP3 models are downscaled to assess the spread of results among the CMIP3 (but not the CMIP5) models. Downscaling simulations are compared for 18-km grid regional and 50-km grid global models. Storm cases from the regional model are further downscaled into the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) hurricane model (9-km inner grid spacing, with ocean coupling) to simulate intense hurricanes at a finer resolution.

A significant reduction in tropical storm frequency is projected for the CMIP3 (−27%), CMIP5-early (−20%) and CMIP5-late (−23%) ensembles and for 5 of the 10 individual CMIP3 models. Lifetime maximum hurricane intensity increases significantly in the high-resolution experiments—by 4%–6% for CMIP3 and CMIP5 ensembles. A significant increase (+87%) in the frequency of very intense (categories 4 and 5) hurricanes (winds ≥ 59 m s−1) is projected using CMIP3, but smaller, only marginally significant increases are projected (+45% and +39%) for the CMIP5-early and CMIP5-late scenarios. Hurricane rainfall rates increase robustly for the CMIP3 and CMIP5 scenarios. For the late-twenty-first century, this increase amounts to +20% to +30% in the model hurricane’s inner core, with a smaller increase (~10%) for averaging radii of 200 km or larger. The fractional increase in precipitation at large radii (200–400 km) approximates that expected from environmental water vapor content scaling, while increases for the inner core exceed this level.

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