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Johnny C. L. Chan and Kin Sik Liu

Abstract

Based on results from climate model simulations, many researchers have suggested that because of global warming, the sea surface temperature (SST) will likely increase, which will then lead to an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones (TCs). This paper reports results of a study of the relationship between SST and observed typhoon activity (which is used as a proxy for the intensity of TCs averaged over a season) over the western North Pacific (WNP) for the past 40 yr. The average typhoon activity over a season is found to have no significant relationship with SST in the WNP but increases when the SST over the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean is above normal. The mean annual typhoon activity is generally higher (lower) during an El Niño (La Niña) year. Such interannual variations of typhoon activity appear to be largely constrained by the large-scale atmospheric factors that are closely related to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. These large-scale dynamic and thermodynamic factors include low-level relative vorticity, vertical wind shear, and moist static energy. Such results are shown to be physically consistent with one another and with those from previous studies on the interannual variations of TC activity. The results emphasize the danger of drawing conclusions about future TC intensity based on current climate model simulations that are not designed to make such predictions.

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Kin Sik Liu and Johnny C. L. Chan

Abstract

This study examines the interdecadal variability of the tropical cyclone (TC) tracks over the western North Pacific (WNP) during the 1960–2005 period. An empirical orthogonal function analysis of the 10-yr Gaussian-filtered annual frequency of TC occurrence shows three leading modes of TC occurrence patterns. The first mode is related to the variation of TC activity in the areas near Japan and its east. The second mode is characterized by a northeast–southwest dipole of TC occurrence anomalies along the southeast coast of China and an east–west dipole near Japan and its east. The third mode is similar to the second mode, except for the absence of the east–west dipole. These patterns are shown to be related to the decadal changes in the prevailing TC tracks.

Two characteristic flow patterns related to the first and third modes of TC occurrence pattern are identified. The first pattern is characterized by a north–south dipole of 500-hPa geopotential anomalies over the WNP. Such a pattern may affect the strength and westward extension of the subtropical high and the midlevel steering flow and hence the TC occurrence pattern. The Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) is found to display a similar dipole-like structure. The decadal variability of TC tracks may therefore be partly attributed to the PDO signal. The second characteristic pattern shows a series of anomalous midlevel atmospheric circulations extending from the sea east of Japan to the south coast of China, which may explain the other part of the decadal variations.

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Kin Sik Liu and Johnny C. L. Chan

Abstract

Tropical cyclone (TC) activity over the western North Pacific (WNP) exhibits a significant interdecadal variation during 1960–2011, with two distinct active and inactive periods each. This study examines changes in TC activity and atmospheric conditions in the recent inactive period (1998–2011). The overall TC activity shows a significant decrease, which is partly related to the decadal variation of TC genesis frequency in the southeastern part of the WNP and the downward trend of TC genesis frequency in the main development region.

The investigation on the factors responsible for the low TC activity mainly focuses on the effect of vertical wind shear and subtropical high on multidecadal time scales. A vertical wind shear index, defined as the mean magnitude of the difference of the 200- and 850-hPa horizontal zonal winds (10°–17.5°N, 150°E–180°) averaged between June and October, is highly correlated with the annual TC number and shows a significant interdecadal variation. Positive anomalies of vertical wind shear are generally found in the eastern part of the tropical WNP during this inactive period. A subtropical high area index, calculated as the area enclosed by the 5880-gpm line of the June–October 500-hPa geopotential height (0°–40°N, 100°E–180°), shows a significant upward trend. A high correlation is also found between this index and the annual TC number, and a stronger-than-normal subtropical high is generally observed during this inactive period. The strong vertical wind shear and strong subtropical high observed during 1998–2011 together apparently lead to unfavorable atmospheric conditions for TC genesis and hence the low TC activity during the period.

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Johnny C. L. Chan, Jiu-en Shi, and Kin Sik Liu

Abstract

A recent scheme to predict tropical cyclone (TC) activity over the western North Pacific partially failed in 1997 and 1998, during which a warm and a cold event of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurred, respectively. This paper presents results of two approaches to improve on such predictions. The first is to include new predictors that are related to ENSO based on some recent research, and the second is to provide an updated prediction by incorporating monthly values of predictors in April and May of the current year.

The results suggest that new predictors related to ENSO can indeed be identified, which include temporal changes in the Southern Oscillation index, strength of the Australian monsoon, and intensity of the subtropical high in the South Pacific. These predictors, together with those selected from the original prediction scheme, are combined to form a modified scheme that in general gives better forecasts of TC activity. The updated scheme that includes April and May predictors further improves the accuracy of the predictions. Real-time predictions from both schemes for the year 2000, which were made in April and June, are found to be largely accurate. Both schemes show better skill compared with the original one.

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