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Published January 2017 | Published
Journal Article Open

Storm-Track Shifts under Climate Change: Toward a Mechanistic Understanding Using Baroclinic Mean Available Potential Energy


Zonal-mean storm-track shifts in response to perturbations in climate occur even in idealized simulations of dry atmospheres with axisymmetric forcing. Nonetheless, a generally accepted theory of the mechanisms controlling the storm-track shifts is still lacking. Here, mean available potential energy (MAPE), a general measure of baroclinicity that is proportional to the square of the Eady growth rate, is used to understand storm-track shifts. It is demonstrated that, in dry atmospheres, the eddy kinetic energy (EKE) in a storm track is linearly related to the mean available potential energy, relative to a local reference state, and that maxima of the two are generally collocated in latitude. Changes in MAPE with climate are then decomposed into components. It is shown that in simulations of dry atmospheres, changes in the latitude of maximum MAPE are dominated by changes in near-surface meridional temperature gradients. By contrast, changes in the magnitude of MAPE are primarily determined by changes in static stability and in the depth of the troposphere. A theory of storm-track shifts may build upon these findings and primarily needs to explain changes in near-surface meridional temperature gradients. The terminus of the Hadley circulation often shifts in tandem with storm tracks and is hypothesized to play an important role in triggering the storm-track shifts seen in this idealized dry context, especially in simulations where increases only in the convective static stability in the deep tropics suffice to shift storm tracks poleward.

Additional Information

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. (Manuscript received 4 September 2015, in final form 23 September 2016) We are grateful for the financial support provided by the National Science Foundation (Grant AGS-1019211).

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