An assessment of uncertainties and limitations in simulating tropical cyclone climatology and future changes
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The recent elevated North Atlantic hurricane activity has generated considerable interests in the interaction between tropical cyclones (TCs) and climate change. The possible connection between TCs and the changing climate has been indicated by observational studies based on historical TC records; they indicate emerging trends in TC frequency and intensity in some TC basins, but the detection of trends has been hotly debated due to TC track data issues. Dynamical climate modeling has also been applied to the problem, but brings its own set of limitations owing to limited model resolution and uncertainties. The final goal of this study is to project the future changes of North Atlantic TC behavior with global warming for the next 50 years using the Nested Regional Climate Model (NRCM). Throughout the course of reaching this goal, various uncertainties and limitations in simulating TCs by the NRCM are identified and explored. First we examine the TC tracking algorithm to detect and track simulated TCs from model output. The criteria and thresholds used in the tracking algorithm control the simulated TC climatology, making it difficult to objectively assess the model's ability in simulating TC climatology. Existing tracking algorithms used by previous studies are surveyed and it is found that the criteria and thresholds are very diverse. Sensitivity of varying criteria and thresholds in TC tracking algorithm to simulated TC climatology is very high, especially with the intensity and duration thresholds. It is found that the commonly used criteria may not be strict enough to filter out intense extratropical systems and hybrid systems. We propose that a better distinction between TCs and other low-pressure systems can be achieved by adding the Cyclone Phase technique. Two sets of NRCM simulations are presented in this dissertation: One in the hindcasting mode, and the other with forcing from the Community Climate System Model (CCSM) to project into the future with global warming. Both of these simulations are assessed using the tracking algorithm with cyclone phase technique. The NRCM is run in a hindcasting mode for the global tropics in order to assess its ability to simulate the current observed TC climatology. It is found that the NRCM is capable of capturing the general spatial and temporal distributions of TCs, but tends to overproduce TCs particularly in the Northwest Pacific. The overpredction of TCs is associated with the overall convective tendency in the model added with an outstanding theory of wave energy accumulation leading to TC genesis. On the other hand, TC frequency in the tropical North Atlantic is under predicted due to the lack of moist African Easterly Waves. The importance of high-resolution is shown with the additional simulation with two-way nesting. The NRCM is then forced by the CCSM to project the future changes in North Atlantic TCs. An El Nino-like SST bias in the CCSM induced a high vertical wind shear in tropical North Atlantic, preventing TCs from forming in this region. A simple bias correction method is applied to remove this bias. The model projected an increase both in TC frequency and intensity owing to enhanced TC genesis in the main development region, where the model projects an increased favorability of large-scale environment for TC genesis. However, the model is not capable of explicitly simulating intense (Category 3-5) storms due to the limited model resolution. To extrapolate the prediction to intense storms, we propose a hybrid approach that combines the model results and a statistical modeling using extreme value theory. Specifically, the current observed TC intensity is statistically modeled with the General Pareto distribution, and the simulated intensity changes from the NRCM are applied to the statistical model to project the changes in intense storms. The results suggest that the occurrence of Category 5 storms may be increased by approximately 50% by 2055.